News / Asia

    2 Elderly Khmer Rouge Leaders Get Life Sentences

    Emotional Scene Follows Khmer Rouge Guilty Verdictsi
    X
    Say Mony
    August 07, 2014 11:32 PM
    A United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia has handed down long-awaited guilty verdicts and life sentences for two aging leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime. VOA's Say Mony reports from Phnom Penh in this story narrated by Colin Lovett.
    VOA's Say Mony reports from Phnom Penh.
    Irwin Loy

    A United Nations-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia convicted two former Khmer Rouge leaders of committing crimes against humanity, in a long-awaited verdict for the Southeast Asian country.

    The two elderly defendants on Thursday were sentenced to life in prison - the maximum allowable punishment.

    The verdict comes more than 35 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, which oversaw the deaths of at least one-quarter of the Cambodian population.

    The two defendants - former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and chief ideologue Nuon Chea, - received their fates on Thursday in much the same way they had sat through almost two years of testimony: Showing little emotion and staring  straight ahead as their sentences were read aloud before a packed courtroom on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
     
     “The chamber sentences the accused, Nuon Chea, to life imprisonment. The chamber sentences the accused, Khieu Samphan, to life imprisonment,” Judge Nil Nonn read.

    Lengthy trial

    Testimony in the trial dragged on for almost two years, but it took the panel of trial judges less than two hours to read out its verdict Thursday morning.

    The court ruled that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were guilty of crimes against humanity, for their leadership roles in implementing the policies of the Khmer Rouge.
     
    “The chamber finds that within the standing committee, Nuon Chea, with Pol Pot exercised the ultimate decision making power of the party,” Nil Nonn said.
     
    Although the decision acknowledged that Khieu Samphan’s main authority in the Khmer Rouge government was focused more on economic matters, his seniority meant he still made a “significant contribution” to Khmer Rouge policies.

    Lawyers for both the defendants immediately promised to appeal the verdict.
     
    “We will fight to the very end to have this trial canceled. Because the judgment is unjust and is not based on any valid basis,” said Arthur Vercken, Khieu Samphan’s lawyer. “There is no concrete evidence pointing to Khieu Samphan’s participation in decision making on this basis the judges should have acquitted our client. And it is an acquittal  that we will be seeking at the level of the appeals chamber."
     
    The current court only began its work in 2006 after years of wrangling between the Cambodian government and the international community.

    It took four years for the tribunal to deliver its first verdict in 2010, when the head of the regime’s notorious S-21 prison, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was found guilty of crimes against humanity and eventually sentenced to life in prison.

    Milestone moment

    Thursday’s decision comes in the court’s first case against senior leaders of the regime. That’s why it came as a milestone moment for many Cambodians.
     
    Chhou Theum, 75, came to Phnom Penh from his home in the countryside to hear the verdict in person.
     
    “I think that the verdict is very important not only for me but for the whole country. All of Cambodia experienced the Pol Pot times. They experienced a lot of hardship and difficulty already so that’s why it’s so important,” Chhou Theum said.
     
    Twenty-year-old student Tin Soklim’s grandparents died under the Khmer Rouge before he was born. That’s why he felt a guilty verdict was crucial for him.
     
    “I have to know. I have to know about history. I have to learn from it and why it is like this. I want to know about this,” Tin Soklim said.
     
    Other Khmer Rouge survivors, however, were disappointed.

    Henry Chhorn, 62, came from his home in Massachusetts to witness the verdict live. He said even though Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan received the maximum possible sentence, it was nothing compared to the crimes committed by the regime.
     
     “If one person commits a murder, it can be life in prison, also. But this was genocide. It is the whole country’s mass killing. So how do we judge the severity of the crime: including torture and everything? It’s not fair at all,” Henry Chhorn said.
     
    The broad scope of the charges faced by the Khmer Rouge leaders meant that the court controversially split the case into multiple parts.
     
    Thursday’s verdict relates to charges stemming from mass movements of the population that resulted in deaths, and the executions of former government soldiers.

    Second phase of trial

    So even though the two defendants were convicted and sentenced Thursday, they must still, in theory, sit through at least a second phase of trial, where they stand accused of crimes including genocide against minority Cham and Vietnamese, forced marriage and rape, vast internal purges, and abuses and killings that took place in Khmer Rouge prisons and labor camps.
     
    Such crimes may be more broadly representative of the regime’s impact on the average Cambodian survivor.
     
    Because of the defendants’ advanced ages - Nuon Chea is 88 and Khieu Samphan, 83 - many observers believe there’s a good chance Thursday’s verdict may represent the last chance to prosecute former Khmer Rouge leaders. And as such, it represents an important milestone for the country.
     
    Long Panhavuth is a court monitor with the Cambodian Justice Initiative.
     
    “We acknowledge that justice is slow. It took a lot of time. It is true that justice should be faster than today,” said Long Panhavuth, a court monitor with the Cambodian Justice Initiative.

    “It is true that the victims have been searching and waiting for justice for too long already. But now we get it. I would say that if there is no judgment today, this means that the culprit may go free and unpunished. The new leader can commit crime again and again with the understanding they will go free without any punishment,” Long Panhavuth said.

    The Khmer Rouge oversaw the deaths of at least 1.7 million people between 1975 and 1979-equivalent to at least one-quarter of the population.

    But 35 years after the regime’s fall, few have been held responsible for its crimes, at least before an internationally backed tribunal.

    Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died an elderly man in the Cambodian jungle in 1998.

    You May Like

    In Britain, The Sun Still Doesn’t Shine

    Invoking Spitfires and Merlin, Leave voters insist country can be great again, following surprising 'Brexit' vote last week

    Double Wave of Suicide Bombings Puts Lebanon, Refugees on Edge

    Following suicide bombings in Christian town of Al-Qaa, on Lebanon's northeast border with Syria, fears of further bombings have risen

    US Senators Warned on Zika After Failing to Pass Funding

    Zika threats and challenges, as well as issues of contraception and vaccines, spelled out as lawmakers point fingers

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Rotimi from: Lagos, Nigeria
    August 08, 2014 11:46 AM
    How much do these guy have left on them. Even as we speak, they are counting days to the grave.

    by: Bubba from: Vietnam
    August 07, 2014 11:10 PM
    During the Vietnam War, Chinese communist supported one group of Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese communist supported the other group of Khmer Rouge. Each group fought each other during the Vietnam War.

    The killings in Cambodia would not exist if Vietnamese communist did not train the Khmer Rouge since 1930. The killings in Cambodia would not exist if the Vietcong/Ho Chi Minh did not ignited the war in Cambodia during the Vietnam War and not supported the Khmer Rouge to power that made the US to drop about 2.8 million tons of bomb on 700,000 Vietcong inside Cambodia.
    During the genocidal period, the Khmer Rouge that supported by Vietnamese communist killed almost all of the Lon Nol servicemen/women that backed by US, and educated & rich people after their victory on April 17, 1975.

    The Khmer Rouge that supported by the Chinese communist purged the Khmer Rouge that supported by the Vietnamese communist in 1977 and starved the Cambodian people to death. They took all of our food and ship back to China and Cambodian people starved to death.
    It seems that the Khmer Rouge leaders like Pol Pot, Kiev Samphan etc did not have the power to say “don’t kill” because all the power to kill or not to kill was in the hand of these two groups. In fact, when the Vietnamese communist and their Khmer Rouge invaded Cambodia in 1979, there were about 10,000 Chinese communist officials escaped to the Cambodian/Thai border with their Khmer Rouge/Pol Pol.

    In my opinion, all of the countries that caused these innocent people to be killed must be brought to justice.

    by: Igor from: Russia
    August 07, 2014 5:54 AM
    Shame on the UN to let the two criminals escape death penalty. They should have been hanged long ago for their crime against their own people and Vietnamese people.
    In Response

    by: Bob Funke from: Boston USA
    August 07, 2014 1:32 PM
    I do not believe in the death penalty for various reasons. Let these people and others spend their days languishing in mental torment behind bars for what they have done.

    As I read this piece, I thought, "What about the war criminals here in the US, shouldn't the bush administration or Henry Kissinger and others be in the dock?"

    If these two goons finally were prosecuted, after 33 years hiding out and a 2 year trial and sentencing phase, I think this should apply to war criminals wherever they are found, regardless of where they call "home".

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeasti
    X
    June 29, 2016 6:15 PM
    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Slow Rebuilding Amid Boko Haram Destruction in Nigeria’s Northeast

    Military operations have chased Boko Haram out of towns and cities in Nigeria’s northeast since early last year. But it is only recently that people have begun returning to their homes in Adamawa state, near the border with Cameroon, to try to rebuild their lives. For VOA, Chris Stein traveled to the area and has this report.
    Video

    Video Clinton Leads Trump, But Many Voters Don't Like Either

    In the U.S. presidential race, most recent polls show Democrat Hillary Clinton with a steady lead over Republican Donald Trump as both presumptive party nominees prepare for their party conventions next month. Trump’s disapproval ratings have risen in some recent surveys, but Clinton also suffers from high negative ratings, suggesting both candidates have a lot of work to do to improve their images before the November election. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video New US Ambassador to Somalia Faces Heavy Challenges

    The new U.S. envoy to Somalia, who was sworn into office Monday, will be the first American ambassador to that nation in 25 years. He will take up his post as Somalia faces a number of crucial issues, including insecurity, an upcoming election, and the potential closure of the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. VOA’s Jill Craig asked Somalis living in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi how they feel about the U.S. finally installing a new ambassador.
    Video

    Video At National Zoo, Captivating Animal Sculptures Illustrate Tragedy of Ocean Pollution

    The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is home to about 1,800 animals, representing 300 species. But throughout the summer, visitors can also see other kinds of creatures there. They are larger-than-life animal sculptures that speak volumes about a global issue — the massive plastic pollution in our oceans. VOA's June Soh takes us to the zoo's special exhibit, called Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea.
    Video

    Video Baghdad Bikers Defy War with a Roar

    Baghdad is a city of contradictions. War is a constant. Explosions and kidnappings are part of daily life. But the Iraqi capital remains a thriving city, even if a little beat up. VOA's Sharon Behn reports on how some in Baghdad are defying the stereotype of a nation at war by pursuing a lifestyle known for its iconic symbols of rebellion: motorbikes, leather jackets and roaring engines.
    Video

    Video Melting Pot of Immigrants Working to Restore US Capitol Dome

    The American Iron Works company is one of the firms working to renovate the iconic U.S. Capitol Dome. The company employs immigrants of many different cultural and national backgrounds. VOA’s Arman Tarjimanyan has more.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora