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Former Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan loses genocide appeal | News

The last surviving senior leader of Cambodia’s radical Khmer Rouge regime has had an appeal against his conviction for genocide rejected at a war crimes tribunal in the capital Phnom Penh.

The ruling on Thursday in the appeal of Khieu Samphan, 91, the former head of state of the 1975-1979 “Democratic Kampuchea” government, marks the final decision by the court and ends 16 years of work by the UN-backed war crimes tribunal.

The rejection of the appeal that sought to clear Khieu Samphan of the genocide of minority Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese in Cambodia also closes the book on one of the regime’s French-educated intellectuals who had argued that he was unaware of the crimes of mass murder perpetrated by his colleagues.

Of the two million victims of the Khmer Rouge, 100,000 to 500,000 were Cham Muslims, and an estimated 20,000 were ethnic Vietnamese.

Reading out the ruling in Phnom Penh, the tribunal’s judges rejected – point after point – Khieu Samphan’s numerous arguments appealing his conviction for genocide.

The “vast majority of Khieu Samphan’s arguments are unfounded”, Judge Kong Srim said during the lengthy reading of the decision.

Thursday’s ruling is expected to be the last by the tribunal, which brought to justice just five senior Khmer Rouge leaders – including one who died during proceedings and another who was ruled unfit to stand trial – at a cost of more than $330 million.

Khieu Samphan – who is now the sole remaining leader of the regime who is behind bars – was once known as the ‘Mr Clean’ of the Khmer Rouge, a hardline Communist regime under which two million people perished in fewer than four years.

He had earned a doctorate from the Sorbonne in Paris in the late 1950s and had a reputation as incorruptible. But in the late 1960s, he joined the Khmer Rouge revolutionary movement and became a faithful lieutenant to Pol Pot, known as Brother No 1 and the group’s leader.

Pol Pot died in 1998 and never stood trial.

A symbol of the regime

Though Khieu Samphan and his legal team were unable to convince the judges that he was innocent of genocide, he appeared to have convinced himself — despite being found guilty of crimes against humanity in a separate case before the tribunal in 2014.

Launching his appeal against his conviction for genocide last year, the white-haired Khieu Samphan was too frail to stand to deliver his personal remarks to the judges, so he delivered the denunciation of his conviction from his seat; a gripping 18 minutes of slow and pointed exhortations of his innocence.

Guilt, Khieu Samphan said, was assigned to him as a symbol of the regime and not for his deeds as an individual.

“I am judged symbolically,” he said.

“I categorically refuse the accusation and the conviction that I had the intention to commit the crimes, no matter or when it was, any crimes, the crimes against humanity in any forms,” he said.

Khieu Samphan in Cambodia’s Malai district in 1980 [J Kaufman/Courtesy of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia]

Cambodia’s despotic leaders — past and present — have often viewed truth “as a practical, not a moral commodity”, wrote Philip Short, the author of several acclaimed biographies, including of Pol Pot.

When interviewing former Khmer Rouge officials for his book, Short found that when his questions became too direct, the interviewees would respond with what were clearly fictitious answers.

“This was even more true of Western-educated leaders like Khieu Samphan than of unlettered peasants,” Short wrote. “There was no embarrassment about the lie: it was the answer such a question merited.”

One truth was that Khieu Samphan was trusted deeply by Pol Pot.

As Short notes, Khieu Samphan was one of only two Khmer Rouge leaders Pol Pot had ever singled out for praise publicly.

Khieu Samphan’s defence team had argued that while their client held a senior position, he was not privy to communication and meetings of more senior leaders, and was not aware of the mass crimes being committed during the period of the regime’s rule.

The tribunal’s International co-Prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued, however, that Khieu Samphan attended the most high-level meetings of the group’s leadership and “either by silent ascent or active support”, he was party to mass crimes.

“So he did more than just sit back and let others make decisions,” Hollis told the appeal hearing last year.

Genocide in Cambodia

Genocide was clearly perpetrated in Cambodia and if Khieu Samphan’s conviction had been overturned, it would have raised questions about the credibility of international legal mechanisms designed to prosecute the ultimate crime, Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-CAM), told Al Jazeera.

“He has been convicted already – in the minds and hearts of the survivors; he has been convicted,” said Youk Chhang, whose research institution has meticulously documented the Khmer Rogue period, educated the public, and worked with survivors.

Khmer Rouge specialist, author, and more recently Harvard academic, Craig Etcheson said the ruling to uphold the charge of genocide was extremely important for Cambodia and for international justice more broadly.

“I do think it is important to the Cambodian people, and historically it’s important. There have been so few convictions for genocide in history,” said Etcheson, who had spent four decades investigating, uncovering, documenting and holding to account those responsible for crimes during the Pol Pot regime.

From 2006-2012, Etcheson was also an investigator with the office of the co-prosecutor at the war crimes tribunal — whose official name is the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Commenting on Khieu Samphan’s apparent inability to admit to his role in the crimes of the regime, Etcheson said it would be difficult and possibly “treacherous” to attempt to contemplate what was going on in Kheiu Samphan’s mind.

“He believes he is being put upon for other people’s crimes. He has highly selective memory,” Etcheson told Al Jazeera.

“He was right in the middle of it … responsible for hunting down traitors in the organisation.”

While the effectiveness of the court will be debated for years, Etcheson said he felt a “sense of accomplishment” knowing that justice was done in the case of the Khmer Rouge leaders convicted, and that the investigation “put the fear of god” in those identified as war criminals but whose cases did not proceed to trial.

“It was definitely an attack on the impunity of the Khmer Rouge which had endured for a long, long time,” Etcheson told Al Jazeera.

The regime’s former foreign minister, Ieng Sary, was charged by the tribunal but he died before the completion of his trial in 2013. His wife, Ieng Thirith, former minister of social action during the regime, was charged but later ruled to be unfit to stand trial on grounds of mental health. She died in 2015.

Khmer Rouge torture chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was convicted of crimes against humanity in 2010 for his role at the S21 death camp where more than 14,000 people were imprisoned and tortured before being sent for execution. He died in 2020.

Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the regime’s “Brother No. 2”, were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for crimes against humanity in 2014. Nuon Chea died in 2019 while in the process of appealing his conviction – alongside Khieu Samphan – for genocide.

There is still a great deal of work that needs to be done, Etcheson said, in terms of ongoing education that allows each generation to make sense of what happened not so long ago.

Support was also needed for the thousands of survivors and victims of the Khmer Rouge who joined the tribunal as civil parties — a first for a war crimes court — and provided testimonies.

“That’s why so much money was spent to achieve individual accountability,” Etcheson said.

“Lots of people did bad things but not everyone is equally guilty. It was the big bosses who dreamed up this nightmare and carried it out,” he said.

‘Qualified success’

Scholar and war crimes researcher Peter Maguire, author of Law and War and Facing Death in Cambodia, has been both a close observer and vocal critic of the tribunal’s proceedings.

Maguire wrote in 2018 that the tribunal was “like most of the UN war crimes trials since the end of the Cold War … part good, part bad, and part ugly”.

He pointed out that it took a staggering $300m and more time for the Cambodian tribunal to convict three Khmer Rouge leaders than it took the United States, the United Kingdom and France to put on trial 5,000 war criminals following World War II.

Commenting on the completion of the tribunal’s work this week, Maguire said he stood by his earlier criticism of the “agonizingly slow and overpriced proceedings”.

But, he said, the tribunal was a “qualified success”.

Particularly “for the remarkable job their investigators did documenting the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge”, Maguire said.

As he has explained, the tribunal made it “clear for all to see, in meticulous detail, who did what to whom” during the regime.

“That’s the important legacy,” Maguire told Al Jazeera.

The court produced what Maguire described as “an empirical record that can never be revised or challenged”.

Asked who would have an interest in revising what had occurred during the Pol Pot regime, and what was uncovered by the war crimes court, Maguire said: “Well, I think, of course, the Chinese and Cambodian government.”

Revising history

Researchers have feared for some time that the tribunal’s database — an unparalleled trove of documentation and testimonies — will not be made available after the ECCC completes its work.

There are good reasons for such concerns.

The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen is deeply uneasy about its roots in the Khmer Rouge movement.

Several senior party members, including Hun Sen, held positions of authority in the Khmer Rouge until defecting to avoid being swept up by internal purges and then returning with Vietnamese troops to topple Pol Pot.

China, too, has a history in Cambodia that it would probably prefer to forget.

Beijing was the staunchest supporter of the Khmer Rouge, both in terms of material aid — much of it military — and also as an ideological mentor during the 1975-1979 period and beyond.

Making the court’s records available should now be a priority, Etcheson said, as the tribunal enters a three-year “legacy period”, agreed to by the UN and Cambodian government earlier this year, where projects and proposals to cement the tribunal’s legacy will be implemented.

Etcheson said he would like to see the publication of a series of works similar to those released after the Nuremberg trials of nazis following World War II and known as the “blue series” and “green series”.

This is a point on which Maguire concurs, noting that a similar series on the Cambodia tribunal would amount to an unassailable record immune to political and historical revision.

Rather than a conclusion, Youk Channg says the court moving into a legacy phase is actually the start of a new period of work.

“The legacy is the beginning not the last stage of the court,” he told Al Jazeera.

DC-Cam will continue with its work educating coming generations of Cambodians about the regime, collecting oral histories, and providing services to survivors, Youk Chhang said.

“We will continue to do that,” he said, adding that reporters will one day contact Cambodian scholars of the Khmer Rouge regime – an area of research that was initially led by foreign researchers.

“You must continue your work”, Youk Chhang said, explaining that as the crime of genocide has not stopped in the world, neither should the people who seek to prevent it stop their work.

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Why Republicans are elated by ‘triumph’ of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni | Politics News

Washington, DC – The election victory of Italy’s Giorgia Meloni this week has been met with cheers from US Republicans, who are heaping praise on the right-wing European leader despite concerns that she heads a political party with neo-fascist roots.

The affinity for Meloni in the United States, experts say, is part of a deepening connection between conservative populists on both sides of the Atlantic, which was previously seen with Republican activists’ embrace of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Increasingly, right-wing nationalists around the world are finding common ground in a battle against shared foes: immigration, progressive views on gender and sexuality, and people they loosely label as “globalists” and “elites”.

And this is precisely the message that succeeded in getting Meloni elected, said Lawrence Rosenthal, chair of the Berkeley Center for Right-Wing Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

“She ran on anger at gender politics; she ran on the traditional family; she ran on things like protecting borders; she would talk about Western civilisation in precisely the same way that Orban does and much of the right-wing in this country does,” Rosenthal told Al Jazeera.

Rosenthal said the “great replacement theory”, the notion that global elites are trying to replace “native” populations in Western countries with immigrants, is at the heart of the grievances that unite these right-wing movements.

The theory is seen by many academics and social justice advocates as a conspiratorial push to stoke racial anxiety about non-white newcomers to Western countries.

“All the nationalist movements in individual countries have the same ‘other’ – that is to say that they all agree that immigrants are ‘the other’, and that’s what they’re against,” Rosenthal said. “So it’s possible to have solidarity across international lines on that score, because the enemy object is the same in all of them.”

Meloni’s views

Meloni, 45, is poised to become Italy’s next prime minister after her political party, Brothers of Italy, emerged as the biggest winner in a right-wing coalition that received the most votes in the country’s snap elections on Sunday.

Brothers of Italy – founded in 2012 – is the ideological successor of the far-right National Alliance, which emerged from the Italian Social Movement, a political party formed by former dictator Benito Mussolini’s supporters in the wake of World War II.

Meloni has denied that her party is fascist and condemned the anti-Jewish laws and suppression of democracy of the fascist era. However, a video of a young Meloni when she was an activist with the National Alliance shows her praising Mussolini as a “good politician” who acted for Italy.

Brothers of Italy’s logo – flames in the colours of the Italian flag – also mirrors that of the Italian Social Movement.

Yet despite the criticism, numerous Republicans hailed Meloni’s electoral success this week, sharing a viral video of the Italian politician arguing that national identity and the concept of family are under attack in an effort to turn people into “the perfect consumer”.

“The entire world is beginning to understand that the Woke Left does nothing but destroy,” far-right Congresswoman Lauren Boebert wrote on Twitter, suggesting that Meloni’s victory was a positive sign ahead of US midterm elections in November.

“Nov 8 is coming soon & the USA will fix our House and Senate! Let freedom reign!”

Senators Ted Cruz and Tom Cotton, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene and former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also were among the Republican officials who expressed joy over Meloni’s win.

Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, one of the most influential right-wing commentators in the US, also lauded Meloni’s victory as a “revolution”, calling her “smart” and able to articulate what the majority of people are thinking.

Some experts say Meloni’s message about family, national identity and God has resonated with US conservatives because it is specifically tailored for them.

“Giorgia Meloni has invested a lot of effort into creating connections and respectability within the US-dominated ‘national conservatism’ and Christian fundamentalist networks,” Cas Mudde, an international affairs professor at the University of Georgia, told Al Jazeera in an email.

Earlier this year, Meloni delivered a speech filled with American references to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), an annual gathering for US right-wing politicians and activists.

“That’s exactly what they want – a right-wing on a leash, irrelevant and trained as a monkey. But you know what? We’re not monkeys. We are not even rhinos; we won’t be part of their zoo,” said Meloni, invoking “RINOs“, or “Republicans In Name Only”, a term used to describe moderate US conservatives.

‘Triumph’ for far right

In that same speech, Meloni went on to claim that “everything” conservatives stand for is under attack, and that progressives are operating globally to “destroy our identities”. She also likened refugees arriving in Italy to migrants and asylum seekers at the US southern border.

“I see unbelievable things happening on the border between [the] United States and Mexico, and I think of our own Sicily,” she said.

“Thousands of migrants allowed to enter without permission, who end up crowding out the slums of our towns and cities. And they’re capping the salaries of our own workers, and in many instances engaging in crime.”

Rosenthal said right-wing Republicans are not looking to Meloni’s message for inspiration because they have already adopted anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies. Rather, “it’s an occasion to celebrate the ‘triumph of our side’ – from their point of view – internationally”, he said.

Rula Jebreal, a Palestinian-born Italian journalist who is currently a visiting professor at the University of Miami, warned that Meloni’s election will embolden far-right extremists in Italy, as well as in the rest of Europe and the US.

Jebreal, who has previously debated and clashed with Meloni publicly, said she and other critics of the Italian politician have received death threats since the election on Sunday. “I think these people feel inspired, emboldened,” she told Al Jazeera, referring to right-wing “extremists”.

“This movement is a global movement, and the people are organised,” Jebreal said.

Over the past decade, there have been active efforts to connect right-wing movements around the world. Notably, Steve Bannon, a former adviser to ex-President Donald Trump, launched an unsuccessful organisation called “The Movement” in 2018 to back anti-European Union populists in European Parliament elections.

The Trump ally had put special emphasis on right-wing parties in France and Italy.

“Italy is the beating heart of modern politics,” Bannon, who is currently facing a flurry of legal challenges and criminal charges in the US, told the Daily Beast at that time. “If it works there it can work everywhere.”

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IMF warns UK its budget cuts will ‘likely increase inequality’ | Business and Economy News

The IMF urged UK to consider providing more targeted support to families and businesses instead of sizable tax cuts.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has taken aim at new British financial plans that have roiled markets, warning that “large and untargeted fiscal packages” would likely increase inequality in the United Kingdom and could undermine monetary policy.

In its first comments on Tuesday on plans by the UK’s new finance minister Kwasi Kwarteng, which have sent the pound sterling and bonds into free fall, the IMF urged authorities to consider providing more targeted support to families and businesses instead of sizable tax cuts and sharply higher government spending.

“We are closely monitoring recent economic developments in the UK and are engaged with the authorities,” an IMF spokesperson said, in response to a query from the Reuters news agency after the British pound hit an all-time low amid spiking market concerns.

“Given elevated inflation pressures in many countries, including the UK, we do not recommend large and untargeted fiscal packages at this juncture, as it is important that fiscal policy does not work at cross purposes to monetary policy,” the spokesperson said in the IMF’s first public reaction.

Kwarteng, who on Friday unveiled a budget aimed at growing the economy by cutting taxes and sharply increasing government borrowing, responded to market mayhem by promising to roll out medium-term debt-cutting plans on November 23.

The global lender understands that the UK’s “sizable fiscal package” was intended to help residents deal with higher energy prices and to boost growth via tax cuts and supply measures, but the “nature of the UK measures will likely increase inequality,” the IMF said.

Kwarteng’s November 23 budget would provide an “early opportunity for the UK government to consider ways to provide support that is more targeted and reevaluate the tax measures, especially those that benefit high-income earners,” the spokesperson added.

The UK was forced to apply for an IMF loan of nearly $4bn during the 1976 financial crisis, with IMF negotiators insisting on deep cuts in public expenditure at the time.

IMF officials have warned repeatedly in recent months of the need to carefully calibrate fiscal and monetary policy as central bankers raise interest rates across the globe to get inflation under control.

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US defends arms sales to Pakistan following criticism from India | Conflict News

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has defended US military sales to Pakistan amid criticism from India, which says it is the target of a $450m F-16 fighter jet deal between Washington and Islamabad.

During a news conference in the United States capital on Tuesday, Blinken said that the military package approved earlier this month was for maintenance of Pakistan’s existing fleet.

“These are not new planes, new systems, new weapons. It’s sustaining what they have,” said Blinken, who spoke alongside India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

“Pakistan’s programme bolsters its capability to deal with terrorist threats emanating from Pakistan or from the region. It’s in no one’s interests that those threats be able to go forward with impunity,” he said.

Blinken met with Jaishankar a day after he held separate talks with his counterpart from Pakistan, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.

“In our discussions … we talked about the importance of managing a responsible relationship with India,” Blinken said after that meeting on Monday, without elaborating.

The US has maintained strong ties to both India and Pakistan for decades, despite various points of tension between the nations.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this week that “the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own”.

While Jaishankar did not criticise Blinken publicly over the F-16 deal, the Indian foreign minister said during an event on Sunday that the US position was not “fooling anybody”.

“For someone to say, I’m doing this because it’s for counter-terrorism, when you’re talking of an aircraft like the capability of the F-16, everybody knows where they are deployed,” he said, referring to the fleet’s positioning against India.

“Very honestly, it’s a relationship that has neither ended up serving Pakistan well nor serving American interests well,” he added.

Pakistan’s military relies heavily on the US, but the relationship has strained in recent years, particularly during the war in Afghanistan.

For its part, India historically has bought military equipment from Moscow and has pressed the US to waive sanctions required under a 2017 law for any nation that buys “significant” military hardware from Russia.

Jaishankar said on Tuesday that India also has purchased arms from countries such as the US, France and Israel, while noting that India had the right to “exercise a choice which we believe is in our national interest” and was free to reject changes due to “geopolitical tensions”.

Over the last 30 years, the US has made strengthening its relationship with India a high priority as it seeks allies in the region to help counter the growing strength of China.

The US has stayed largely quiet on India’s continued relationship with Russia following the invasion of Ukraine, and was pleased when India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that it was “not a time for war”.

US President Joe Biden held talks with Modi in April as Washington sought more help to apply economic pressure on Moscow over the war.

Jaishankar has suggested that India is working behind the scenes and that it “weighed in” with Russia during negotiations to open grain shipments from the Black Sea, part of what Jaishankar called the country’s widening “international footprint”.

“There are many more regions where we will be intersecting with American interests. It is to our mutual benefit that this be a complementary process,” Jaishankar said.

Meanwhile, Blinken said during the news conference that India and the US should lean into “core values including respect for universal human rights, like freedom of religion and belief and freedom of expression, which makes our democracies stronger”.

In recent years, India has been accused of a range of human rights abuses, including curbs to religious freedoms, particularly against Muslims.

Jaishankar responded indirectly to Blinken’s comments on Tuesday that both India and the US were committed to democracy but “from their history, tradition and societal context”.

“India does not believe that the efficacy or indeed the quality of democracy should be decided by vote banks,” he said.

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