Last Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide

Last Khmer Rouge leaders found guilty of genocide

The worldwide tribunal to judge the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians opened its session Friday to deliver its verdicts on charges of genocide and other crimes.

Former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, and "Brother Number 2" Nuon Chea, 92, were instrumental in the reign of terror led by "Brother Number 1" - leader Pol Pot - left some two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions.

Although the widespread slaughter that rent Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 is often called a "genocide" - known as the "crime of all crimes" - the loaded charge carries a narrow legal definition.

Specifically, Friday's verdict establishes that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide against the country's Vietnamese and Cham minorities.

Khieu Samphan was also found guilty of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese, though not against the Cham, he added.

Nuon Chea was considered the main ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and the right-hand man of the group's late leader, Pol Pot, while Khieu Samphan served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.

Nuon Chea, 92, was brought by ambulance and Khieu Samphan by van from the nearby prison where they are held.

Just talking about the Khmer Rouge brought back disgusting memories of life under their rule in 1975-79, he said.

Members of the Cham community were among the large crowd of spectators who attended Friday's session.

The number of allegations against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was so vast the court split the trials into a series of smaller hearings in 2011.

There are fears that politics will thwart the tribunal from undertaking any further prosecutions.

Cambodia's long-serving, autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he will allow no further cases to go forward, saying they would cause instability.

'The verdict is essentially the Nuremberg judgement for the ECCC and thus carries very significant weight for Cambodia, worldwide criminal justice, and the annals of history, ' said David Scheffer, who served as the United Nations secretary general's special expert on the Khmer Rouge trials from 2012 until last month.

The failure to attain a broader sweep of justice has troubled some observers.

However, the judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal said that while genocide was also committed against the minority Cham - Muslims who were forced to eat pork, banned from prayer, and had their Korans burned - the two men did not have "genocidal intent". "Decades after the crimes and 13 years after it was established, the ECCC should have achieved much more". "They will always be political and fall short of expectations", Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal, said ahead of Fiday's verdicts.

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