The Bucolic Life of a Cambodian Grandmother Accused of Mass Killings

In this dusty mountain hamlet on the Thai border, she is known as Grandma Chaem.

The tiny 74-year-old lives peacefully in a snug, stilted house surrounded by papaya, lime and custard-apple trees. Her children and grandchildren live nearby. She grows cucumbers and donates to her local pagoda, chews betel leaf and tends her cows.

But Im Chaem, the woman enjoying this apparently idyllic retirement, is accused of overseeing the killing of tens of thousands of people as a Khmer Rouge official in northwestern Cambodia in 1977 and 1978. In 2015, a United Nations-backed tribunal charged her with crimes against humanity, including mass murder, extermination and enslavement.

The tribunal’s investigating judges quietly dropped the charges, raising questions about whether they had yielded to pressure from the Cambodian government, which opposed the prosecution.

Photography: © Omar Havana for The New York Times. All Rights are Reserved

Intro by Julia Wallace for The New York Times

This story was done while on assignment for The New York Times