Friday 19 December 2014

Brutal Khmer Rouge leaders sentenced to life for war crimes

Published 07/08/2014 | 07:33

In this handout photo courtesy of the ECCC, Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan (C) sits at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as his verdict is delivered on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. The U.N.-backed tribunal in Cambodia sentenced the top two surviving cadres of the Khmer Rouge regime to life in jail on Thursday after finding them guilty of crimes against humanity for their part in the 1970s "killing fields" revolution.   REUTERS/Mark Peters/ECCC/Handout via Reuters (CAMBODIA - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THE AUTHENTICITY, CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES. THIS PICTURE WAS PROCESSED BY REUTERS TO ENHANCE QUALITY. AN UNPROCESSED VERSION WILL BE PROVIDED SEPARATELY
In this handout photo courtesy of the ECCC, Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan (C) sits at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as his verdict is delivered on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Peters/ECCC/Handout via Reuters
In this handout photo courtesy of the ECCC, Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan (L) sits at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as his verdict is delivered on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Peters/ECCC/Handout via Reuters
Former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea (C) sits at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as his verdict is delivered on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014 in this handout provided by ECCC. REUTERS/Mark Peters/ECCC/Handout via Reuters
In this handout photo courtesy of the ECCC, Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan sits at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) as his verdict is delivered on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mark Peters/ECCC/Handout via Reuters
Chum Mey (R), a survivor of the S-21 Tuol Sleng prison, gestures a greeting outside the court room before the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Soum Rithy (C), who lost his father and three siblings during the Khmer Rouge regime, breaks out in tears and hugs another survivor after the verdict was delivered in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. A U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia sentenced the two top surviving cadres of the Khmer Rouge regime to life in jail on Thursday after finding them guilty of crimes against humanity for their roles in the 1970s "killing fields" revolution. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Sok Teng, 73, waits with other survivors and relatives of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime to enter the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to attend the delivery of verdict in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Villagers and survivors of Khmer Rouge regime arrive to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to attend the delivery of verdict in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Buddhist monks arrive to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to attend the delivery of verdict in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Members of the public watch a screen as the verdict is delivered in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
A man joins other members of the public in watching a screen as the verdict is delivered in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Former Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan is seen on a television screen at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
Security personnel wait for villagers and survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime to arrive at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to attend the delivery of the verdict in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea on the outskirts of Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Soum Rithy (C), who lost his father and three siblings during Khmer Rouge regime, is escorted as he cries after the verdict was delivered in the trial of former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former Khmer Rouge leader ''Brother Number Two'' Nuon Chea at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts Phnom Penh August 7, 2014. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
Cambodian former Khmer Rouge servitor Soum Rithy, in a pink shirt at center, is surrounded by journalists after the verdicts were announced, at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

Two senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge were sentenced to life in prison on war crimes charges for their role in Cambodia's terror period in the 1970s.

A UN-backed war crimes tribunal today announced the historic verdicts, three and a half decades after the genocidal rule of the Khmer Rouge ended.

The sentences are for Khieu Samphan, the regime's 83-year-old former head of state, and Nuon Chea, its 88-year-old chief ideologue - the only two leaders of the regime left to stand trial.

The tribunal's chief judge Nil Nonn asked both men to rise for the verdicts but the frail Nuon Chea said he was too weak to stand from his wheelchair and was allowed to remain seated.

There was no visible reaction from either of the accused as the judge said both men were found guilty of crimes against humanity, forced transfers, forced disappearances and attacks against human dignity and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The men can appeal against the rulings, but Nil Nonn told the court that "given the gravity of the crimes" both would remain in detention.

The case, covering the forced exodus of millions of people from Cambodia's towns and cities and a mass killing, is just part of the Cambodian story.

Nearly a quarter of the population died under their rule, through a combination of starvation, medical neglect, overwork and execution when the group held power in 1975-79.

Many have criticised the slow justice, and its cost. The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and comprising Cambodian and international jurists, began operations in 2006.

It has since spent more than 200 million dollars (£120 million), yet it had convicted only one defendant - prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.

The current trial began in November 2011 and started out with four Khmer Rouge leaders.

Former foreign minister Ieng Sary died in 2013, while his wife, social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to dementia in 2012. The group's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen called it "a historic day for both the Cambodian people and the court. The victims have waited 35 years for legal accountability, and now that the tribunal has rendered a judgment, it is a clear milestone."

Khieu Samphan has acknowledged that mass killings took place. But testifying before the court in 2011, he claimed he was just a figurehead who had no real authority.

He denied ordering any executions himself, calling the allegations a "fairy tale" and instead blamed Pol Pot for its extreme policies.

Nuon Chea, who is known as Brother No. 2 for being Pol Pot's trusted deputy, had also denied responsibility, testifying in 2011 that Vietnamese forces - not the Khmer Rouge - had killed Cambodians en masse.

"I don't want them to believe the Khmer Rouge are bad people, are criminals," he said of those observing the trial. "Nothing is true about that."

Because of the advanced age and poor health of the defendants, the case against them was divided into separate smaller trials in an effort to render justice before they die.

Both men now face a second trial that is due to start in September or October, this time on charges of genocide, Olsen said. That trial is expected to take years to complete.

Survivors of the regime travelled from across the country to witness the historic day, filling several hundred seats available to the public at the tribunal.

After the verdict was read, many said they felt mixed reactions and questioned if any punishment could fit the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge.

"The crimes are huge, and just sentencing them to life in jail is not fair," said 54-year-old Chea Sophon, who spent years in hard labour camps building dams and working in rice fields. His brother was killed during the Khmer Rouge era

"But what can I do? I just accept the verdict," he said, then adding: "Even if they die many times over, it would not be enough."

A female survivor, 58-year-old Khuth Vouern, said she felt a sense of relief that justice was finally served, even if it was generations late.

"I have been waiting for this day for many years," said the woman, whose husband and several other family members were killed during the Khmer rouge reign.

"Now, for the first time, my mind feels at least some degree of peace."

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