Cambodia court rejects genocide appeal of last surviving Khmer Rouge leader | Cambodia

The UN-backed Cambodian Tribunal for the Khmer Rouge has confirmed a genocide conviction against the regime’s last remaining leader, more than 40 years after Pol Pot’s brutal communist regime fell.

The tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), rejected an appeal by Khieu Samphan, 91, in what was expected to be the court’s final ruling. Khieu Samphan, a former head of state, was found guilty in 2018 of crimes against humanity and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions, and of the genocide of the ethnic minority Vietnamese.

Between 1.5 million and 2 million people were killed under the Khmer Rouge through a combination of mass executions, famine and labor camps, in one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century. By the time the regime was overthrown in 1979, about 25% of the Cambodian population had died.

The dead included an estimated 20,000 ethnic Vietnamese, as well as 100,000 to 500,000 Cham Muslims.

Kong Srim, the chairman of the ECCC’s Supreme Court Chamber, said Khieu Samphan’s case includes “some of the most horrific events that took place during one of the most tragic and catastrophic periods”.

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Under the Khmer Rouge regime, the court heard, “the civilian population was denied basic freedoms and subjected to widespread acts of extreme brutality. There was a culture of fear from massacres, torture, violence, persecution, forced marriage, forced labor and enforced disappearance and other inhumane treatment.”

Khieu Samphan listened to the proceedings in court through headphones, his face covered with a mask. He had argued about 1,824 errors in the court’s judgment, ranging from procedural errors to allegations of bias.

His appeals were rejected and sentenced to life in prison.

The court, which will now end its work, has provided a space for national healing and justice, but has also been criticized for its slowness, cost and vulnerability to interference from Hun Sen’s government.

The main perpetrators have died before they could be brought to justice, including ‘brother number one’ Pol Pot, who died in 1998.

Established in 1997 and made up of both Cambodian and international judges, the court has cost more than $330 million (£290 million).

It has led to three convictions, including Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Pol Pot’s second-in-command, and Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch, who was head of the infamous S-21 prison.

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“There is no success in dealing with the punishment of the crime of genocide…I would like to ask, what would be enough?” said Youk Chhang, director of Cambodia’s Documentation Center and a survivor of the Khmer Rouge’s Killing Fields.

While the tribunal may have ended, work to remember the events would continue, he added. “That effort must continue. Stories must be documented, that [is] perhaps the only way we will learn,” he said, adding that genocide should be integrated into school curriculum and discussed at a global level as well.

Khieu Samphan was sentenced to life imprisonment along with Nuon Chea in 2018 for genocide and other crimes.

The verdict at the time emphasized that Khieu Samphan encouraged, encouraged and legitimized criminal policies that led to the deaths of civilians “on a large scale,” including the millions forced into labor camps to build dams and bridges and the mass extermination of Vietnamese. Buddhist monks were forcibly removed from office, while Muslims were forced to eat pork.

The couple was already serving life sentences for crimes against humanity during the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975, when residents of the city were taken to rural labor camps where they faced forced labour, hunger and disease.

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Nuon Chea passed away in 2019.

Kaing Guek Eav, who ran the S-21 prison where approximately 18,000 people were tortured and killed, was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2010. He died in 2020.

Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, Ming Yu Hah, said Thursday’s ruling “should serve as another reminder that liability for the most serious crimes has no expiration date”.

“The tribunal has served as an important platform for public discussion of the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge, and as a place where victims’ voices can be heard, recorded and published,” she said, adding that the work of supporting victims and survivors was not finished.

Impunity for human rights violations remains a serious problem in Cambodia today, and as authorities seek to uphold international law and human rights, they must ensure that their national justice system is independent, impartial and capable of delivering justice a hallmark of Cambodian society. rather than make an exception,” said Ming Yu Hah.

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