Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide that killed millions
18 November, 2018, 17:03
The last surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge that brutally ruled Cambodia in the 1970s were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes Friday by an worldwide tribunal.
Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, are the last two surviving senior leaders of the radical communist group that brutally ruled Cambodia in the late 1970s.
The reign of terror led by "Brother Number 1" Pol Pot left around 2 million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions.
Today's verdict was the first time a court has ruled that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide.
He and Chea - who suffers heart problems and watched the proceedings from a separate room - were sentenced to life in prison, the same sentence they are already serving after earlier convictions for crimes against humanity.
They are two of only three people ever convicted by the tribunal.
The court has launched investigations into four more Khmer Rouge cadres, though one was dismissed in February 2017, highlighting the difficulties of bringing lower level members of the brutal regime to justice.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found them both guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese, and Chea was also found guilty of genocide against the Cham, a Muslim ethnic community.
Why is the genocide verdict significant?
The crimes against humanity convictions covered activities at work camps and co-operatives established by the Khmer Rouge.
They were on trial at the UN-backed tribunal on charges of exterminating Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese.
Lah Sath, a 72-year-old Cham man from eastern Kampong Cham province, brought his wife and four young granddaughters to Friday's session.
"Through this trial it has been shown clearly that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors".
This party eventually became known as Democratic Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge.
The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Many were worked to death while others starved as the economy imploded.
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.
The scale and brutality of the killings - many of them meticulously documented by officials - means the regime remains one of the bloodiest of the 20th Century. The regime was ultimately toppled by a 1979 Vietnamese invasion.
Why is this tribunal controversial?
A judicial investigation by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) into Meas Muth was concluded in January a year ago, after he was charged.
Only three people have been convicted by the court, which has cost more than Dollars 300 million.
In 2010, Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010, for war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, and torture.
The accused did not dispute their roles as pivotal figures in the Khmer Rouge communist regime, they both denied genocide and the lawyer for Nuon Chea, told the Guardian the case at the extraordinary chambers in the courts of Cambodia (ECCC) had been conducted "very unfairly".
Hun Sen himself was a midlevel Khmer Rouge commander before defecting while the group was still in power, and several senior members of his ruling Cambodian People's Party share similar backgrounds. There are parts of the country where victims and perpetrators live side by side in villages.
"It's an important day for global jurisdiction and Cambodia".
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