Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] said Monday that he wants to punish those people who deny that atrocities occurred during the 1970s Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] regime, which was widely held responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people. Hun Sen has suggested [AP report] that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party shares the regime's philosophy by comparing their promise to cancel banking debts to the Khmer Rouge's eradication of the banking system in 1975. Opposition leader Kem Sokha also allegedly said that exhibits at the genocide museum were faked. Hun Sen's comments come ahead of the national election set for July 28, which he is expected to win in a landslide.
Once a member of the Khmer Rouge himself, Hun Sen has used the regime to discredit his opponents and call for legislation to silence those who deny the movement's existence. In 2011 the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] began hearings for four former Khmer Rouge leaders. The four leaders included Nuon Chea [ECCC profile], the regime's second-in-command and the group's chief ideologist, former head of state Khieu Samphan [ECCC profile], ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, [ECCC profile; JURIST news archive] and his wife, Ieng Thirith [ECCC profile], who served as minister for social affairs. The four, each of whom is over 80 years old, are the first top officials to face trial. They are charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture, but have pleaded not guilty to those charges. The March 14 death [JURIST report] of Ieng Sary renewed fears [JURIST report] that the aging defendants may not live to see the end of the trial. Ieng Thirith has also been declared unfit to stand trial and has been released [JURIST reports].