Two top Khmer Rouge leaders get life imprisonment for ‘genocide’

Khieu Samphan, left, former Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, right, who was the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist, were sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide. (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia via AP)
Updated 16 November 2018
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Two top Khmer Rouge leaders get life imprisonment for ‘genocide’

  • UN-backed war crimes court delivered historic ruling on Friday

PHNOM PENH: Two top leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime were found guilty of genocide on Friday, in a landmark ruling almost 40 years after the fall of a brutal regime that presided over the deaths of a quarter of the population.

The Khmer Rouge’s former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, and “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, 92, are the two most senior living members of the ultra-Maoist group that seized control of Cambodia from 1975-1979.

The reign of terror led by “Brother Number 1” Pol Pot left some two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions but Friday’s ruling was the first to acknowledge a genocide.

The defendants were previously handed life sentences in 2014 over the violent and forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975.

But Friday’s judgment at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) also found Nuon Chea guilty of genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minority group, among a litany of other crimes.

“The chamber finds that Nuon Chea exercised ultimate decision-making power with Pol Pot and ... therefore finds Nuon Chea is responsible as a superior for all the crimes,” presiding judge Nil Nonn said.

“This includes the crime of genocide by killing members of Cham ethnic and religious group.”

Khieu Samphan was also found guilty of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese, though not against the Cham, he added.

Both parties were sentenced to “life in prison,” merging the two sentences into a single term, Nil Nonn said.

Hundreds of people, including dozens of Cham Muslims and Buddhist monks, were bussed into the tribunal, located in the outskirts of Phnom Penh to attend the hearing.

The events covered by the verdict span the four years of the Pol Pot regime, and include extensive crimes against humanity.

“The verdict is essentially the Nuremberg judgment for the ECCC and thus carries very significant weight for Cambodia, international criminal justice, and the annals of history,” said David Scheffer, who served as the UN secretary general’s special expert on the Khmer Rouge trials from 2012 until last month.

The revolutionaries who tried to recreate Buddhist-majority Cambodia in line with their vision of an agrarian Marxist utopia attempted to abolish class and religious distinctions by force.

Forced marriages, rape, the treatment of Buddhists, and atrocities that were carried out in prisons and work sites throughout the country fall under the additional list of charges — which the two men were found guilty of as well.

“(The verdict) will affirm the collective humanity of the victims and give recognition to the horrible suffering,” said Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia — a research organization that has provided the court with evidence.

It could also “provide a sense of closure to a horrible chapter in Cambodian history.”

The hybrid court, which uses a mix of Cambodian and international law, was created with the backing of the UN in 2006 to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

Only three people have been convicted by the court, which has cost more than $300 million.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife died without facing justice, while “Brother Number 1” Pol Pot passed away in 1998.

The number of allegations against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was so vast the court split the trials into a series of smaller hearings in 2011.

Many believe Friday’s decision will be the last for the tribunal, which has been marred by allegations of political interference.

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.

The court has launched investigations into four more Khmer Rouge cadres, though one was dismissed in February 2017, highlighting the difficulties of bringing lower level members of the brutal regime to justice.

Scheffer said that “challenges of efficiency, funding, and access to evidence” are issues that plague all international criminal courts, but argued the successes of the Cambodian tribunal should not be diminished.


Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

Updated 4 min 22 sec ago
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Spain threatens to send national police to Catalonia after protests

MADRID: Spain’s interior minister said he would send national police to Catalonia if local authorities did not do more to stop protests like the one that shut down major highways over the weekend.
Fernando Grande-Marlaska accused the local Catalan police of doing nothing to prevent pro-independence protesters blocking the AP-7 toll road, which runs up Spain’s Mediterranean coast, for more than 15 hours on Saturday.
The involvement of national police would be a contentious issue in the northeastern region which has its own administration and where polls suggest almost half the population wants to split away from Spain.
It would also stir memories of Madrid’s decision to send in a large contingent of national police in September last year after the Catalan government called an illegal independence referendum.
“Serious disruptions of public order and traffic security, such as those seen in the last few days, need to be dealt with by the regional police,” the minister wrote to his regional counterpart in an open letter late on Monday.
“If this does not happen ... the government will order an intervention by the state police,” he added.
Catalonia’s government would respond to the questions raised in the letter, spokeswoman Elsa Artadi said on Tuesday, without saying when or going into further detail. She repeated calls for dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona.
Spain’s previous conservative government took control of the region when the regional administration unilaterally declared independence following the Oct. 1, 2017 referendum.
Many of the Catalan politicians that took part in the declaration are in prison awaiting trial for rebellion or in exile.
Spain’s new Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez — who came to power in June — has said he is open to a referendum on greater autonomy and has promised to lay out detailed plans in parliament on Wednesday.
But Grande-Marlaska said the local authorities had to show they could keep order and prevent a repeat of Saturday’s protests.
“It was observed that there was no intervention (by the regional police) ... a reality that is difficult to deny,” he said in a radio interview on Tuesday morning.