Cambodia jails two senior Khmer Rouge cadres for life

Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment by a United Nations-backed court in Cambodia.

Cambodia jails two senior Khmer Rouge cadres for life

World Bulletin / News Desk

Two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment by a United Nations-backed court in Cambodia on Thursday.

Nuon Chea, 88, known as Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot's Brother Number Two, and Khieu Samphan, 83, former head of state, received life sentences for their roles in the ultra-Maoist regime of the 1970s that saw 1.7 million Cambodians murdered or die from starvation and overwork in a disastrous attempt to create an agrarian utopia.

"The Trial Chamber finds the accused Nuon Chea to be guilty of the crimes against humanity of extermination [encompassing murder], political persecution, and other inhumane acts," Judge Nil Nonn said on delivering the verdict.

He repeated the guilty verdict against Khieu Samphan. Both men were in court, Nuon Chea confined to a wheelchair and wearing sunglasses to protect his eyes against the light.

"It’s a historic day for victims who have waited more than 35 years for some kind of accountability," said Lars Olsen, a court spokesman, after the verdict was delivered.

Sou Sotheavy, 76 - a survivor of the Khmer Rouge regime - told the Anadolu Agency that he was "very happy they got life in prison."

Sotheavy lost 20 members of his family to the regime.

The two octogenarians had been on trial since 2011 by a United Nations-backed court in the capital known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia—which was set up to try key regime leaders who were in charge of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

Both men said they will appeal.

It was likely the last chance for many Cambodians to see some kind of justice done. Pol Pot died before he could be tried, and since the court was set up in 2007, the number of accused has decreased by half.

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary, who was originally on trial alongside Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan died of a heart attack last year, while his wife Ieng Thirith, former minister for social affairs, was declared unfit for trial due to dementia.

The court has so far delivered one verdict—a life sentence for Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, the former prison chief of notorious Khmer Rouge torture center S-21 in 2011.

With slow-moving proceedings and the declining health of the elderly accused, this trial—known as Case 002/02—was split into several "mini-trials" in the hope that a verdict would at least be seen before their health deteriorated even more.

The first phase of the trial, for which this verdict was delivered, dealt primarily with the forced evacuation of the population of Phnom Penh in 1975—a crime against humanity. The sick were forced out of hospitals, and children and the elderly forced to walk long distances to join cooperatives in the countryside—thousands of people died on the journey.

The next phase of the trial against the two men, set to begin in September or October, deals with charges of genocide of two minority groups—Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese. For many of the thousands of civil parties to the case, these are the more relevant charges—although there is doubt the accused will live to see a second verdict.

However, many Cambodians have already lost faith in the court process, which has been sluggish and also marred by allegations of government interference.

Many officials in Cambodia's current government, were lower ranking Khmer Rouge cadre before they defected to join with Vietnamese forces and overthrow the regime in 1979. Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself a Khmer Rouge soldier.

The government has repeatedly said that two other cases being prepared by the court against senior military cadre will not be allowed to go ahead—and two investigating judges from the UN-side of the hybrid court have quit their posts over what they said was government interference in the process.

Both men now have a period of time in which they are permitted to lodge an appeal.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Ağustos 2014, 11:26