The Leaderboard: Ieng Sary

Who is he?

Ieng Sary was the co-founder and minister of foreign affairs of the Khmer Rouge, the regime which oversaw the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians during its rule from 1975 to 1979. He was also brother-in-law to the regime’s infamous leader Pol Pot.

Also known as Brother Number Three, Ieng Sary was standing trial for genocide and war crimes at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a tribunal jointly run by the United Nations and the Cambodian government to prosecute former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Ieng Sary. Source: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, used under a creative commons license.

Why is he in the news?

Ieng Sary, 87, died in a Phnom Penh hospital on March 14. He had been hospitalized on March 4 due to failing health.

Ieng Sary’s death means he will never be formally convicted for his role in the Khmer Rouge’s brutal rule. He was one of only three of the regime’s remaining senior leaders on trial.

What can we expect?

The death of Ieng Sary before his conviction highlights the consequences of justice delayed in the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Political interference by Cambodian government officials, many of them former Khmer Rouge leaders, and budget shortfalls have plagued the ECCC. Two international judges have resigned from the tribunal since 2011, citing political interference. Thirty local translators who have not been paid since December went on strike early this month, forcing the court to suspend trials indefinitely.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An said on February 13 that Cambodia will be $7 million short in its obligations to the court and hopes international donors will step up assistance. The United States presently provides 10 percent of the international donor funding.

Of the five former Khmer Rouge leaders the ECCC indicted in 2007, only Nuon Chea, 86, and Khieu Samphan, 81, remain on trial. The former head of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, Kaing Guek Eav, was found guilty in February 2012. The court dismissed charges against a fifth defendant, Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith, after finding her mentally unfit to stand trial. Ieng Sary’s death now raises questions about whether the ECCC is capable of bringing any more defendants to justice, should the trials continue at all.


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