Cambodian war crimes court says Khmer Rouge committed genocide

Cambodian war crimes court says Khmer Rouge committed genocide

On Friday, an global tribunal in the capital Phnom Penh decided that the party had committed genocide during its reign from 1975 to 1979.

Nuon Chea, the regime's "Brother Number Two", and Khieu Samphan, known as "Brother Number Four", were convicted of the genocide of two minorities living within Cambodia: Vietnamese and the Muslim Cham people, who were among the few to mount a determined resistance to the Khmer Rouge. Forty years since, two of its most senior leaders still alive have been declared guilty of genocide and handed out life sentences. 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.

Nuon Chea, 92, was considered the Khmer Rouge's main ideologist and Pol Pot's right-hand man, while Khieu Samphan, 87, served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.

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. Instead, their radical policies led to what has been termed "auto-genocide" through starvation, overwork and execution.

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.

Khieu Samphan, looking frail and gaunt, stood in the dock with the help of prison guards when Nil Nonn read the verdict.

Lah Sath, a 72-year-old Cham man from eastern Kampong Cham province, brought his wife and four young granddaughters to Friday's session.

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"Only five people have been put on trial, with three convicted". The Cham were treated as enemies and exploited without mercy as they were forced to do intensive farm labor, he recalled.

With the pair already serving life sentences from a previous trial, and no death penalty in Cambodia, the tribunal's sentences (further life sentences) were more symbolic.

Buddhists were also targeted by the Khmer Rouge regime, Nil Nonn said.

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. Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander who defected when the group was in power and was installed in government after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power by a Vietnamese invasion.

The worldwide tribunal to judge the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians has opened its session to deliver its verdicts on charges of genocide and other crimes.

"International tribunals are better than the alternative, impunity". "But justice is usually delivered, even if at times, as has been the case with the ECCC, it staggers across the finish line".

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