Leaders of Communist Khmer Rouge Convicted of Genocide in Landmark Ruling

By Simon Veazey
Simon Veazey
Simon Veazey
Freelance Reporter
Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.
November 16, 2018 Updated: November 16, 2018

In a landmark ruling, the last surviving leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia have been convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

It is the first time that officials of the Marxist-Leninist organization that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s have been found guilty of genocide.

In a four year period, up to 1.7 million people, a quarter of Cambodia’s population, are believed to have died from murder, starvation, forced labor, and execution under the regime’s brutal attempts to create a classless society.

An international tribunal in Cambodia on  Nov. 16 convicted two men for their part: the head of state, Khieu Samphan, 87, and leader Pol Pot’s deputy, Nuon Chea, 92, known as “Number Two.”

They were found guilty of murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, forced marriages, rape, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, and other inhumane acts.

Women and Children in Cambodia under Khmer Rouge
Cambodian women and children huddle close together in fear of incoming fire from Khmer Rouge forces on Highway 5, just northwest of Phnom Penh, April 6, 1975. (AP Photo)

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) found them both guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese, and Chea was also found guilty of genocide against the Cham, a Muslim ethnic community.

Abolishing Class Divisions

With the pair already serving life sentences from a previous trial, and no death penalty in Cambodia, the tribunal’s sentences (further life sentences) were more symbolic.

With the vast majority of those slaughtered in the “Killing Fields” by the Khmer Rouge being fellow Cambodians, legal experts had been unsure whether genocide would apply.

But, in his summary, the judge said that the regime also specifically targeted Cham, Vietnamese, Buddhist groups “to establish an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions by abolishing all ethnic, national, religious, racial, class and cultural differences.”

According to the ruling summary the Cham were deliberately dispersed and scattered among Khmer villages specifically to fully break up their communities and to assimilate them into the Cambodian population.

In addition to being slaughtered on a massive scale, they were also forced to eat pork and prevented from speaking their native tongue under threat of death.

The ECCC was set up in 2006, but has only produced three prior verdicts (including the two prior convictions against Chea and Samphan in 2014).

Monks wait outside Khmer Rouge Hearing
Cambodian Buddhist monks wait in line to enter into the courtroom before the hearings against two former Khmer Rouge senior leaders, at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 16, 2018. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)

In 2010,  Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2010, for war crimes, crimes against humanity, murder, and torture.

Eav was the commandant of the notorious Tuol Sleng S-21 prison, where more than 14,000 people died.

Who Were the Khmer Rouge?

The Khmer Rouge, also the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) and later called itself the Democratic Kampuchea (DK), killed at least 1.7 million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979 in its attempts to destroy the nation and import agrarian communist ideals in Cambodia.

The actual death toll is believed to be much higher due to the suffering of malnutrition, starvation, illness and disease, exhaustion from overwork in forced labor in fields or mines, or trauma from the suffering.

The Khmer Rouge wanted to transform Cambodia into a rural, classless society. It abolished money, free markets, normal schooling, private property, foreign clothing styles, religious practices, and traditional Khmer culture, according to the Cambodia Tribunal.

The regime followed a Marxist-Leninist doctrine, which insists that rulers of the old society such as the landowners, capitalists, government leaders, and military commanders are “class enemies,” and they can therefore be targeted for elimination by the government.

It was eventually overthrown in 1979 by Vietnamese troops after several violent border confrontations. Pol Pot and some of his forces were forced to retreat into the jungle, where the former dictator died in 1998.

No More Trials

Cambodia’s long-serving, autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen has declared he will allow no further case to go forward, claiming they would cause instability.

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.

Initial work had been done on two more cases involving four middle-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, but they have been scuttled or bottled up by the tribunal, which is a hybrid court, in which Cambodian prosecutors and judges are paired with international counterparts.

Jack Phillips and Kelly Ni of The Epoch Times, and the Associated Press contributed to this article.

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Simon Veazey
Freelance Reporter
Simon Veazey is a UK-based journalist who has reported for The Epoch Times since 2006 on various beats, from in-depth coverage of British and European politics to web-based writing on breaking news.