International court upholds life in prison for former Khmer Rouge leader

A UN-backed international court today upheld the life sentence on appeal for former head of state Khieu Samphan in the latest trial linked to Khmer Rouge crimes in Cambodia.

Mark Peters/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)/via REUTERS

In a session held in the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, the special court rejected the arguments put forward by Khieu Samphan, 91, who was convicted in 2018 of genocide against the Vietnamese minority, crimes against humanity and war crimes. Despite having been Cambodia’s head of state during the Khmer Rouge regime, Khieu Samphan has always denied playing any role in the policies that led to the death of an estimated 1.7 million people in purges, starvation and abuse.

Khieu Samphan was already serving, since 2014, a first life sentence for crimes against humanity for the forced migration and disappearance of thousands of people.

This decision concludes the work of the court, created 16 years ago and which spent 337 million dollars (342.8 million euros) to judge crimes against humanity committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

In addition to Khieu Samphan, the international court sentenced another Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea to life imprisonment in 2014, and the head of the Pol Pot Kaing regime’s S-21 security prison Guek Eav, responsible for the death and torture of more than 15 thousand prisoners.

Other regime leaders, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, died in 2013 and 2015 before being convicted.

The Khmer Rouge, Maoists who wanted to abolish private property and turn Cambodia into a rural country, took power in 1975 and imposed a repressive regime, until they were expelled in 1979 by Vietnamese troops.

The group was led by Pol Pot, who died in 1998 at the Amlong Veng guerrilla base in northwest Cambodia, murdered by his own forces.

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