Phnom Penh, Aug. 7: A court today found the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which brutalised Cambodia during the 1970s, guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced them to life in prison.
The chief judge, Nil Nonn, said the court found that there had been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population of Cambodia” and that the two former leaders were part of a “joint criminal enterprise” that bore responsibility. They were convicted of murder and extermination, among other crimes.
More than 1.7 million people died under Khmer Rouge rule between 1975 and 1979.
The proceedings of the tribunal, a joint effort of the Cambodian government and the UN, have been criticised as being extremely belated and for covering only a narrow sliver of the crimes perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge.
The judgments against Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, were the first to be handed down against the Khmer Rouge leadership, although a lower-ranking official, who ran a notorious prison for the regime in Phnom Penh, was convicted in 2010. Both senior leaders will file appeals.
The case against the two defendants has been divided into stages. The trial that culminated today has focused largely on the evacuation of urban centres, part of the regime’s disastrous attempt to establish an agrarian utopia. Initial hearings have begun for the second trial, which includes charges of genocide.