Crime & Justice

Last living Khmer Rouge leader appeals genocide conviction

Bangkok, Aug 16 (EFE).- A United Nations-backed court in Cambodia began on Monday to hear an appeal filed by Khieu Samphan, the last Khmer Rouge leader alive, against a life sentence for genocide.

The 90-year-old former head of state of the regime was sentenced in November 2018 along with Nuon Chea, commonly known as “brother number two” and chief ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, who died in August 2019 at the age of 93.

The ruling recognized for the first time the commission of genocide by the Khmer Rouge against the ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim Cham minorities.

Khieu Samphan, who is also facing another life sentence with Nuon Chea for “crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, persecution on political and religious grounds, imprisonment, and other inhumane acts,” will attend the hearings in person and plans to testify before the conclusion of the appeal, his defense team said on Monday.

The hybrid United Nations-backed tribunal, officially created in 2006 under the name of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), is comprised of both Cambodian and foreign lawyers and judges who enforce domestic and international laws.

The court has reserved four days during this week to hear the arguments of both parties although the trial could continue until Aug. 27 if necessary.

The court is scheduled to announce its decision during the fourth quarter of 2022.

Attendance of public, media and diplomats has been restricted at the hearings due to the Covid-19 measures.

Around 1.7 million people, or a third of the country’s population, died in political purges and starvation under the Maoist regime of the Khmer Rouge (1975-79), which was led by “brother number one” Pol Pot.

Pol Pot died in 1998 in a Maoist guerrilla outpost in the rainforests of northern Cambodia but part of the regime’s leadership was later arrested and tried.

In 2020, Kaing Guek Eav, or Duch, former head of the Pol Pot regime’s notorious S-21 security prison, died at the age of 77 while serving a life sentence.

Besides Duch and Nuon Chea, other Khmer Rouge leaders who have died in recent years include the regime’s former foreign affairs minister Ieng Sary and his wife and social affairs minister, Ieng Thirith, who died in 2013 and 2015 respectively, before being sentenced.

The tribunal is yet to decide on whether to proceed with the trial of octogenarian former Khmer Rouge Navy chief, Meas Muth, and Yim Tith, who was the highest level cadre in Sector 13, present-day Takeo province, both charged with genocide and crimes against humanity, among others.

The difference in the positions of Cambodian judges, who do not consider these accused to be high-ranking officials, and foreign judges, who wish to try them, has left the pre-trial phase in a legal limbo.

The decision on whether to press on with the trial is expected to be announced during the third quarter of the year. EFE


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