ANALYSIS: CAMBODIA

Pol Pot’s 90-year-old right-hand man loses court appeal for crimes against humanity, will spend dying days in jail

Khmer Rouge ‘Brother Number Two’ Nuon Chea faces a second trial for genocide

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 1:27pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 23 November, 2016, 10:13pm

Cambodia’s UN-backed court upheld life sentences for two top former Khmer Rouge leaders on Wednesday for crimes against humanity, delivering a blow to their hopes of release as they face a second trial for genocide.

“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, 90, and ex-head of state Khieu Samphan, 85, were the first top leaders to be jailed in 2014 from a regime responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979.

They appealed their convictions, accusing the court of a string of errors and the judges of failing to remain impartial due to their personal experiences under the regime.

In a lengthy ruling on Wednesday after months of hearings, the bench upheld the bulk of the convictions and the jail terms, but accepted some legal errors had been made in the initial trial.

Kong Srim, the Supreme Court Chamber’s top judge, said the pair “had a complete lack of consideration for the ultimate fate of the Cambodian population” adding that the scale of their crimes was “massive”.

“The Supreme Court Chamber considers that the imposition of a life sentence for each of the accused is appropriate,” he added.

The Khmer Rouge regime dismantled modern society in Cambodia in their quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia, killing vast numbers and leaving a generational scar.

The tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), is a complex hybrid court on the outskirts of Phnom Penh combining elements of international and domestic law.

It was set up following an agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations to prosecute senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

The number of allegations against Chea and Khieu Samphan - and the complexity of their cases - was so vast that the court split their trials into a series of smaller hearings 2011, fearful the pair might die before justice could be served.

Their convictions in August 2014 followed a two-year trial focused on the forced evacuation of around two million Cambodians from Phnom Penh into rural labour camps and the murders of hundreds of enemy soldiers at one of several execution sites.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are also currently undergoing a second trial for genocide of ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim minorities, forced marriage and rape.

But the tribunal has had mixed successes. Despite the sheer brutality unleashed by the Khmer Rouge, survivors have seen just a handful of perpetrators be brought to justice.

Many key leaders have died without facing justice, including “Brother Number One” Pol Pot who died in 1998.

Chea and Khieu Samphan’s co-defendents, Ieng Sary, the third-ranking Khmer Rouge leader and its foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, died during the first phase of their trial.

Four Cambodian judges and three international judges sit in the Supreme Court Chamber that heard the appeal. Rules state at least five out of the seven of them must agree on the verdict to reach an accord.

David Scheffer, the UN Secretary-General’s envoy to the tribunal, said that the judgement sent a message to leaders around the world.

“What happened today in this courtroom ultimately can reach your domain,” Scheffer said at the court, naming Islamic State in Syria, among others.

“I will just say in closing that perhaps the leadership of North Korea should take particular note of what occurred here today,” Scheffer said. “...International justice isn’t backing down, it is actually forging ahead.”

A 2014 report by the United Nations, which referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by name in connection with suspected human rights abuses, triggered a strong reaction from Pyongyang, including a string of military provocations

Additional reporting by Reuters