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Khmer Rouge tribunal convicts senior leaders of crimes against humanity


The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia handed down its second judgment on 7 August, convicting senior Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan of crimes against humanity.

Nuon Chea, known as ‘Brother Number Two’ to Pol Pot’s ‘Brother Number One’, played an important role in the formation of Khmer Rouge policy and occupied key executive positions in the leadership structure. Khieu Samphan was for many years the public face of the communist movement and served as the head of the Khmer Rouge’s new state, ‘Democratic Kampuchea’.

When the Khmer Rouge seized power in Cambodia in 1975, it immediately evacuated the population of Phnom Penh and other urban areas as part of its grand plan to create a self-sufficient agrarian economy – the ‘great leap forward’. More than two million people were forced to leave Phnom Penh for the countryside, where they faced starvation, deprivation, illness, forced labour, torture and horrific abuse at the hands of Khmer Rouge soldiers. Officials of the former government were executed. Subversive elements – including intellectuals, landowners, the middle classes and anyone else perceived as a threat – were targeted for re-education and execution. In total, Khmer Rouge policies are thought to have caused the deaths of one and a half to two million people between 1975 and 1979.

In the course of the trial, the ECCC heard evidence from 92 witnesses and civil parties and admitted more than 5,800 documents. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were found guilty of the crimes against humanity of extermination (encompassing murder), political persecution and other inhumane acts (comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity) through their participation in a joint criminal enterprise. Both were sentenced to life imprisonment. A second trial on the additional charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions has begun.

Andrew McIntyre was a UN legal officer and Greffier in the Trial Chamber of the ECCC.