A human rights organisation marked the death of key Cambodian figure Chea Sim by calling his role in Cambodia’s governing party a “mockery of justice” Tuesday, due to him never answering for his involvement in the brutal Khmer Rouge regime which ruled the country between 1975 and 1979.
Human Rights Watch said Sim, the 82-year-old president of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), had been implicated in “serious crimes” committed before his defection to Vietnam. It stressed his death should place a renewed focus on particular members of the country’s leadership who also have strong links to the Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.
The Cambodia Daily and Phnom Penh Post newspapers cited Yim Leang, the head of his bodyguard unit, as saying that the elderly politician and former Khmer Rouge cadre died at his home in the capital on Monday.
On Tuesday it was reported that an elaborate and very public cremation ceremony is being planned in one of Phnom Penh’s main park spaces.
Sim’s face is one of three that had become synonymous with the reach of the CPP, seen on thousands of party signs dotted around the country - to the left of Prime Minister Hun Sen, in the center, and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
The three together had all been members of the Khmer Rouge.
According to “Hun Sen’s Cambodia,” a book by Australian journalist and author Sebastian Strangio, Sim began “his revolutionary career in the 1940s as an organizer among the monkhood and rose to the post of district chief in the Eastern Zone,” as it was known during the Khmer Rouge era.
He defected in the middle of 1978, becoming part of the wave that ultimately overthrew the ultra-Maoist regime, before going on to serve as the interior minister of the new People’s Republic of Kampuchea.
He eventually became the head of the CPP in 1991, and headed the Senate from 1997.
For the past few years he has been infirm, and began staying home instead of attending public events. When he did make public appearances, he required assistance walking and standing up.
Sim was summonsed to appear before the Khmer Rouge tribunal in 2009 alongside a number of other top government officials who had been members of the Khmer Rouge, but like them he never responded.
In a statement released Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said his demise should “spur renewed efforts to bring remaining Khmer Rouge leaders and others most responsible for Khmer Rouge crimes to justice.”
“Chea Sim’s passing is a reminder that virtually all former Khmer Rouge officials have gone unpunished for the millions of deaths and incredible suffering of ordinary Cambodians during Khmer Rouge rule,” said the group’s Asia director Brad Adams.
“It is a mockery of justice that Chea Sim could serve in the post-Khmer Rouge Cambodian leadership for decades without ever facing an investigation, much less arrest or prosecution,” he added.
Beyond his role in that regime, Human Rights Watch also blamed Sim for establishing a police and prison system that would “repress all opposition” to the government.