Khmer Rouge leaders guilty of genocide

Enlarge this image

Enlarge this image

Two former Khmer Rouge leaders have been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of genocide killings during the group's brutal rule of Cambodia in the late 1970s.

Nuon Chea (NOO'-ahn CHEE'-ah) and Khieu Samphan (KEE'-yoh sahm-PAHN') were sentenced by the United Nations -assisted court to life in prison, the same punishment they are already serving after being convicted in a previous trial for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers of people and mass disappearances.

Genocide was committed against the Cham, Vietnamese and Buddhists, he said.

The court found that during their rule, the Khmer Rouge had a policy to target Cham and Vietnamese people to create "an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions", Judge Nil Nonn said in the verdict.

But the BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says the larger-scale killings of the Cambodian population do not fit the narrow worldwide definition of genocide, and have been prosecuted instead as crimes against humanity.

Initial work had been done on two more cases involving four middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, but they have been scuttled or bottled up by the tribunal, which is a hybrid court in which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with global counterparts.

They are already serving life sentences after being convicted in a previous 2011-2014 trial of crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people. Khieu Samphan denied knowing about matters including forced marriages and violent oppression of minorities, and both men mounted political defences.

There had been debate for years among legal experts at to whether the killings by the Khmer Rouge constituted genocide, as by far the majority of their victims were fellow Cambodians.

Enlarge this image
Enlarge this image

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

A large crowd of spectators attended Friday's session, including members of the Cham minority.

Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van to the courthouse from the nearby prison where they are held. The regime was ultimately toppled by a 1979 Vietnamese invasion.

In 2010 it convicted Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who was in charge of the infamous Tuol Sleng torture centre and prison in Phnom Penh.

Although there are cases against four other Khmer Rouge members, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has been vocal about his opposition to the tribunal starting any new trials and there is little chance this will happen.

Cambodian court officials, known for their loyalty to Hun Sen's government, are in a position to base their judgments on the tribunal's inexact guidelines limiting prosecutions to senior leaders or persons considered "most responsible" for atrocities, or simply cease co-operation.

Others, however, highlighted the tribunal's accomplishments. "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.

Latest News