Tribunal to decide genocide, other verdicts over Khmer Rouge

Tribunal to decide genocide, other verdicts over Khmer Rouge

Tribunal to decide genocide, other verdicts over Khmer Rouge

Phnom Penh - A UN-backed court on Friday convicted two Khmer Rouge leaders of committing genocide, the first of Pol Pot's cadre to be found guilty for targeting minority groups for elimination during the regime's rule in Cambodia in the 1970s. It was levelled against Chea and Samphan for the mass murder of Cham Muslim and Vietnamese people, rather than the broader Cambodian population.

The court found that during their rule, the Khmer Rouge had a policy to target Cham and Vietnamese people to create "an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions", Judge Nil Nonn said in the verdict.

Nuon Chea, 92, was considered the Khmer Rouge's main ideologist and Pol Pot's right-hand man, while Khieu Samphan, 87, served as the head of state, presenting a moderate veneer as the public face for the highly secretive group.

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

Both Chea and Samphan reportedly did not deny that they were key leaders of Khmer Rouge in the 1970s but said they had no role to play in the genocide which wiped off 25% of the country's population at the time. "They will always be political and fall short of expectations", said Alexander Hinton, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of two books about the tribunal.

Lah Sath, a 72-year-old Cham man from eastern Kampong Cham province, brought his wife and four young granddaughters to Friday's session.

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The tribunal in 2010 also convicted Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh.

Many believe Friday's decision will be the last for the tribunal, which has been marred by allegations of political interference.

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.

There had been debate for years among legal experts at to whether the killings by the Khmer Rouge constituted genocide, as by far the majority of their victims were fellow Cambodians. Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge commander who defected when the group was in power and was installed in government after the Khmer Rouge were ousted from power by a Vietnamese invasion.

'The verdict is essentially the Nuremberg judgement for the ECCC and thus carries very significant weight for Cambodia, global 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.

Scheffer said that "challenges of efficiency, funding, and access to evidence" are issues that plague all global criminal courts, but argued the successes of the Cambodian tribunal should not be diminished.

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