World

Actions

Decades Later, Khmer Rouge Officials Get Life In Prison

Two high-ranking Khmer Rouge officials are indicted on crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Posted at 9:27 AM, Aug 07, 2014

After three years of court proceedings and decades after their crimes were committed, two high-ranking officials from the Khmer Rouge regime have been convicted of war crimes and sentenced to life imprisonment. 

The two men are Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot's deputy Nuon Chea, and the regime's head of state Khieu Samphan. (Video via ABC Australia)

The tribunal that convicted the men was launched in 2006 — a joint effort by the United Nations and the Cambodian government to prosecute senior officials from the Khmer Rouge's regime. 

The Khmer Rouge held power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 and attempted to turn the country into an agricultural, Marxist state through forced labor and executions. (Video via TED)

BBC: "We heard all sorts of details of how bodies were left beside the road when they forcibly evacuated the cities ... And the mass executions that took place." 

Estimates of the deaths under the Khmer Rouge vary, but most put the number of people killed through starvation and executions between 2 and 3 million. 

As The Guardian reports, both men denied the allegations of complicity to the mass executions, instead "blaming Pol Pot’s extreme brand of communism." Samphan even "described himself as a state figurehead who 'did not have any power' and did not order any executions."

Chea and Samphan are the highest-ranking officials from the regime to be convicted of crimes against humanity— and it's happening 35 years after their regime left power in Cambodia. 

The New York Times notes the tribunal's proceedings "have been criticized as being extremely belated and for covering only a narrow sliver of the crimes perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge."

The only other Khmer Rouge official to be found guilty of crimes against humanity is the former head of the regime's most notorious prison camp, who was convicted first in 2010, then had his sentence expanded to life imprisonment two years later. (Video via Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia)  

Many survivors of the Khmer Rouge's rule were present at the trial, and multiple outlets reported outpourings of emotion when the sentence was announced.  

But one survivor of the regime's notorious killing fields wrote for CNN the verdict "is a victory that can only be marked with somber contemplation ... No action can assuage the anguish, sadness, and regret that haunts the survivors to this day."

Lawyers for both of the men maintain their clients weren't aware of the atrocities committed, and will appeal the ruling.