Khmer Rouge guilty after long-running genocide trial

Cambodia Khmer Rouge

Cambodia Khmer Rouge

Friday's sentencing is the first time the charge of genocide was ever levied against any senior leader of the ultra-Maoist regime, which left an estimated two million Cambodians dead during its four-year reign of terror.

Nuon Chea (NOO'-ahn CHEE'-ah) and Khieu Samphan (KEE'-yoh sahm-PAHN') were sentenced to life in prison, the same punishment they are already serving after earlier convictions at a previous trial for crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and mass disappearances.

The separate verdicts involve killings of the Cham and Vietnamese ethnic groups committed as the radical group brutally ruled Cambodia and starved, overworked and executed its own perceived enemies.

Though the verdict does not end the academic debate around the genocide, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's regional director for East and Southeast Asia, believes it is a symbol of justice for those who suffered under the regime. They included murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, attacks on human dignity, enforced disappearances, forced transfers, forced marriages and rape.

They are two of only three people ever convicted by the tribunal.

According to reports, this verdict will nearly certainly be the last from an unusual attempt at transnational justice that has lasted more than a decade.

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 courtsin which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with global counterparts. "I am really satisfied with the sentences".

Since his arrest, he has been held in detention in the cells of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Cambodia Khmer Rouge

Who were the Khmer Rouge?

They sought to create a self-reliant, agrarian society: cities were emptied and residents forced to work on rural co-operatives.

This could be the final decision of the tribunal, officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The Khmer Rouge, seized power in Cambodia in 1975 and governed until 1979.

The regime was defeated in a Vietnamese invasion in 1979.

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. Pol Pot died in 1998. His wife Ieng Thirith, the regime's social affairs minister and the fourth co-defendant, was ruled mentally unfit to stand trial and died in 2015.

Prime Minister Hun Sen - himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre - has repeatedly warned he would not allow more investigations to proceed, citing vague threats to stability. There are parts of the country where victims and perpetrators live side by side in villages.

Scheffer said that "challenges of efficiency, funding, and access to evidence" are issues that plague all worldwide criminal courts, but argued the successes of the Cambodian tribunal should not be diminished.

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