INDEPENDENT NEWS AND COMMENT ON WORLD AFFAIRS
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News In Brief
16 November 2018: Two former senior leaders of Cambodia's infamous Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, have been given life sentences by an international tribunal after conviction for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. They are the last surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge that subjected Cambodia to a brutal reign of terror between April 1975 and January 1979.
The verdict in the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, read by Judge Nil Nonn, established that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the Vietnamese and the Cham ethnic (Muslim) minorities. The court found insufficient evidence to convict Khieu Samphan of genocide against the Cham but he was convicted of genocide against the Vietnamese on the grounds that he belonged to the group responsible for it.
Both men are already serving life sentences following earlier convictions for forced transfers and mass disappearances. Nuon Chea was the main ideologist of the Khmer Rouge under its leader Pol Pot, while Khieu Samphan served as the head of state.
Pol Pot himself is believed to have committed suicide in 1998 after learning from a Voice of America broadcast that the Khmer Rouge had agreed to turn him over to prosecutors. A strangely anomalous figure who was educated in elite Cambodian schools and was a scholarship student in France (where he lived between 1949 and 1953), Pol Pot was one of the most brutal leaders in history. His forcible relocation of Cambodia's urban population to the countryside to work on collective farms was accompanied by the mass murder of supposed enemies of the regime and deaths related to malnutrition, forced labor and lack of medical care. An estimated1.5 to 3 million people were killed, in a population of roughly 8 million.
UN Special Adviser Comment
Welcoming the conviction of the two men, Adama Dieng, the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide said, “This conviction is a good day for justice. It demonstrates that justice will prevail, and that impunity should never be accepted for genocide and other atrocity crimes.”
“While criminal accountability is foremost a tool to provide justice and redress to victims, it also has an important preventative function as a deterrent as well as to help societies in reconciliation efforts and to deal with the past. At a time when we are witnessing a dangerous disregard for fundamental rights and international legal norms and standards in many parts of the world, this decision sends a strong message, in the region and globally, to those who commit, incite or condone atrocity crimes that sooner or later they will be held accountable.”