Court upholds genocide conviction for last surviving Cambodian Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan

Khieu Samphan, the last remaining senior leader of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge regime, has failed to overturn his genocide conviction.

The final verdict comes close to a 16-year lawsuit that cost $500 million and resulted in the conviction of three senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

The communist movement seized control of Cambodia in April 1975, unleashing a reign of terror that lasted nearly four years in the Southeast Asian country.

An estimated 2 million people died as a result of mass famine, political persecution and massacres, a catastrophic forced evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh and the establishment of forced labor cooperatives in an effort to build a classless agricultural society.

Khieu Samphan, 91, was the head of state of what was then known as Democratic Kampuchea. He was an important public face of the regime, but denied that he had any real decision-making power for his defence.

He was tried alongside the Khmer Rouge’s “Brother Number Two”, chief ideologist Nuon Chea.

A photo of Nuon Chea with pursed lips and large dark glasses.
Nuon Chea, the top Khmer Rouge ideologist, died in 2019.(Flickr: ECCC, CC BY 2.0)

Both were convicted in two separate trials and received life sentences in 2014 and 2018 for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Nuon Chea passed away in 2019 at the age of 93.

The main Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, was never tried. He died in 1998.

Cambodian man and former head of the Khmer Rouge prison Kaing Guek Eav with gray hair is wearing a blue shirt and beige jacket.
Prison chief Kaing Guek Eav died in September 2020.(Flickr: ECCC)

Prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, was the only other leader to be convicted.

Duch oversaw the torture and forced confessions from thousands of inmates at the infamous Tuol Sleng Prison, who were later murdered and buried in Cambodia’s Killing Fields.

Genocide and forced marriage

Khieu Samphan’s genocide conviction only concerns the treatment of one ethnic group: the Vietnamese.

But the finding of genocide — often considered the crime of all crimes — is seen as justifying the collective suffering of the Cambodian people under the Khmer Rouge, according to Dr Rachel Killean, an associate professor at the University of Sydney Law School.

“Genocide is often framed locally as something that has happened to the entire population, not just specific minority groups,” she said.

Two women in hijabs seen through wire
Cambodian Cham Muslims were forced to eat pork and were politically persecuted during the Khmer Rouge regime. (Reuters: Samrang Pring)

“Recognition of genocide can be symbolically meaningful to survivors, regardless of the technicalities surrounding legal rulings.”

In its deliberations, the Supreme Court of the tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), described the Khmer Rouge rule as “one of the most tragic and catastrophic periods in human history”.

The proceedings also covered the religious persecution of Cham Muslims – who were forced to eat pork, burn their Qurans and dismantle mosques – and Buddhist monks – who were referred to as “worms” or “leeches” – as well as crimes of forced marriages and forced marriages. sexual intercourse.

A black and white photograph of a man standing next to a woman with a hammer and sickle flag in the background.
The court ruled that both men and women suffered forced intercourse as a result of the Khmer Rouge’s forced marriages in the 1970s.(Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum)

dr. Rosemary Gray, also of the University of Sydney Law School and the Sydney South-East Asia Centre, said there was legitimate criticism that the court failed to prosecute some sex crimes during the Khmer Rouge period, including forced pregnancy and rape. that were not considered part of official policy.

But she said an important part of her legacy was exposing forced marriages orchestrated by the regime.

dr. Gray pointed out that the 2018 trial’s verdict “controversially distinguished between men’s and women’s experience of forced intercourse within forced marriages”.

“It found that the women’s experience of sexual assault was severe enough to amount to the crime against humanity of ‘other inhumane acts,’ but the men’s experience was not,” she said.

But the appeals chamber reversed that finding today.

“The victims of forced intercourse are both female and male victims,” ​​the Supreme Court said, adding that the practice was part of the party’s efforts to control the population.

Leave a Comment