Life in prison for the last living Khmer Rouge leader upheld
The UN’s special tribunal for Khmer Rouge crimes issued its last verdict today, turning down Khieu Samphan’s appeal. Established in 2001, it had jurisdiction over crimes against humanity committed in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when a quarter of its population was killed. For an Amnesty International official, certain atrocities have “no expiration date".
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) issued its last verdict today, upholding a genocide conviction against Khieu Samphan.
The UN-backed tribunal charged with prosecuting Khmer Rouge crimes, which included both Cambodian and international judges, rejected the appeal filed by the 91-year-old former Khmer Rouge leader, who was also convicted for crimes against humanity in 2014 and 2018.
Using torture, mass executions and forced labour camps, the Khmer Rouge regime killed a quarter of Cambodia's population between 1975 and 1979.
Set up in 2001, the ECCC cost more than US$ 330 million. In all, it prosecuted five Khmer Rouge leaders, two of whom died before they could be convicted. The regime’s top leader, Pol Pot, also known as Brother Number One, died in 1998 before any ruling could be pronounced.
The last sentence against Khieu Samphan follows charges of genocide against Cambodia’s Vietnamese minority. The ECCC rejected the argument that the regime was a political movement aimed at improving the lives of Cambodians.
“By no stretch of the imagination could it be seriously stated that the CPK revolution was implemented in a benevolent or altruistic manner,” the ruling read. CPK refers to the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouges’ official name.
The victims of the regime include 20,000 Vietnamese and 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims, forced to eat pork in prison camps.
In his 2018 trial, Khieu Samphan, Brother Number Two, was sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide and other crimes, along with Nuon Chea, who died in 2019.
Both were given life in prison four years earlier for the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975, when Khmer Rouge troops forced the capital's population to move to labour camps in the countryside to build dams and bridges for the regime.
The third person convicted by the special court was Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, head of the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21), a torture and killing facility where the Khmer Rouges killed about 18,000 people. He died in 2020.
The ECCC has been repeatedly criticised for its costs, slowness, and interference by Cambodia’s current prime minister, Hun Sen, but according to experts it has played a valuable role in national reconciliation.
For Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns Ming Yu Hah, the ruling “should serve as another reminder that accountability for the most serious crimes has no expiration date”.