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Khmer Rouge rule killed 1.7m people in Cambodia; 40 years later, court finds its surviving leaders guilty of genocide, sends them to life imprisonment





- Two surviving leaders of Khmer Rouge have been found guilty of genocide

- The two leaders have been sentenced to life imprisonment

- The Khmer Rouge is a brutal political movement in Cambodia, between 1975 and 1979, that sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes

More than 40 years after an estimated 1.7 million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia, an international tribunal for the first time found two surviving senior leaders of the regime guilty of genocide for their role in the bloodshed.

The UN-backed war crimes court sentenced the two senior leaders to life in prison on Friday, November 16, in a historic ruling, Aljazeera reports.

What you need to know about The Khmer Rouge

Khmer Rouge was the name popularly given to the followers of the Communist Party of Kampuchea and by extension to the regime through which the CPK ruled in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

The Khmer Rouge sought to achieve an agrarian utopia by emptying the cities to establish vast rural communes. Instead, their radical policies led to what has been termed "auto-genocide" through starvation, overwork and execution.

Khmer Rouge regime committed "genocide" during its reign of terror from 1975 to 1979.

The conviction

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge 2 surviving leaders found guilty of genocide, sentenced to life imprisonment

Former Khmer Rouge leader and head of state Khieu Samphan (L) stands during his verdict in court at the international tribunal in Phnom Penh. Credit: Getty Images

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, are the last surviving senior leaders of the communist group that brutally ruled the Southeast Asian nation.

The tribunal found them guilty of genocide, committing crimes against humanity and other breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The presiding judge Nil Nonn said: "The chamber ... finds that the crimes of genocide... were committed" against ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslims.”

Nuon Chea. Photo credit: Latitudes.nu

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge 2 surviving leaders found guilty of genocide, sentenced to life imprisonment

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Legit.ng gathers that the leaders are already serving life sentences after being convicted in a previous 2011 to 2014 trial of crimes against humanity connected with forced transfers and disappearances of masses of people.

The Khmer Rouge: A personal experience

Lah Sath, a 72-year-old Cham man from eastern Kampong Cham province took his wife and four young granddaughters to the trial session. He said he often heard people talking about the trial and sometimes watched it on TV, but decided it was time to see it with his own eyes.

Sath said just talking about the Khmer Rouge brought back horrible memories of life under their rule. According to him, the Cham were treated as enemies and exploited without mercy as they were forced to do intensive farm labour.

He recalled how his younger brother was killed by the Khmer Rouge for failing to take good care of a cow.

The tribunal reportedly has carried out just one other prosecution resulting in the 2010 conviction of Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch. Duch was the head of the Khmer Rouge prison system and ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture centre in the capital, Phnom Penh.

However, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen has reportedly declared he will not allow further case to go forward, claiming they would cause instability.

Hun Sen himself was reportedly a Khmer Rouge commander who defected and was later installed in government after the group was removed from power by a Vietnamese invasion.

Meanwhile, Theary Seng, a human rights lawyer and Khmer Rouge survivor whose parents were killed, said she welcomed the verdict but questioned why only three people from the regime have been tried.

"The verdict is really the accumulation of years and years of waiting, we're talking about crimes committed over 40 years ago," she said.

In a related development, Legit.ng previously reported how a 49-year-old Rwandan-born man was sentenced by a Swedish court to life in prison after being found guilty of playing a role in the 1994 genocide in the African country - 24 years after committing the crime.

Theodore Tabaro was jailed after being found guilty of assassination, attempted murder and abduction of members of the Tutsi ethnic group "with the intention to destroy the whole or part of the Tutsi group."

Tabaro, who is a Swedish national, was said to have also urged others to commit crimes. According to the court, Tabaro participated in several attacks in southwestern Rwanda and took part in an attack against a school, a chapel and a monastery where "several hundred people were killed."

KT Press reports that while Tabaro was in Winteko suburb with other Hutu militia on April 9, 1994, he took part in the killing of numerous civilians and raping of women and girls.

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Chuka (Webby) Aniemeka

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