Tribunal finds Cambodia genocide leaders guilty

18 November, 2018, 15:45 | Author: Sheila Harris
  • Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan inside the courtroom

Up to two million people, a lot of them ethnic Khmer, are believed to have died under the brief but systematically brutal Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

On November 16, 2018, the two are sentenced to life in prison on charges of genocide.

He and Nuon Chea were already serving life sentences for crimes against humanity and the additional life sentence will be served concurrently.

A man cleans a skull near a mass grave at the Chaung Ek torture camp run by the Khmer Rouge in this undated photo.

Between 1.7 and 2.2 million people, nearly a quarter of the population, died during the 1975 to 1979 rule of the Khmer Rouge.

They were also sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, religious and racial persecution, disappearances and rape. Families of victims say it has been a long and tough battle for justice but many feel punishing leaders of the regime still alive would be a deterrent against any similar regime which may crop up here or anywhere else.

The court found Khieu Samphan not guilty of genocide against the Cham, for lack of evidence, though he was found guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese under the principle of joint command responsibility.

The Khmer Rouge seized power in 1975 after a bloody five-year civil war.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who defected to the regime's eventual conquerors, Vietnam, said he would "not allow" any new indictments beyond the handful of top leaders.

Khieu Samphan described the claim of genocide as "Vietnamese propaganda", a defence he and other former Khmer Rouge leaders have made previously.

The UN tribunal, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, was established in 1997, but has been hindered by the deteriorating health of defendants and political interference.

Khieu Samphan had at one point been the smiling, polite figurehead who nominally was the head of state in the Khmer Rouge regime. Khieu Samphan denied knowing about matters including forced marriages and violent oppression of minorities, and both men mounted political defences.

Khieu Samphan, left, former Khmer Rouge head of state, stands at the dock in a court room during a hearing at the United Nations -backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Friday.

Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van from the nearby prison where they are held. "Last night, I could not sleep because I was afraid that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan could die before this verdict was announced".

The ground rules under which the tribunal was established in 2005 are complicated, providing for hybrid courts pairing Cambodian judges and prosecutors with global counterparts.

Established in 2006 with both Cambodian and worldwide judges, it has so far only convicted three people for the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime at a cost of $300m (£232m). "They will always be political and fall short of expectations", said Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal.

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