In Cambodia, for the first time, two leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime have been found guilty of genocide. The ruling by a UN-backed war crimes court comes almost 40 years after the fall of a brutal regime that presided over the deaths of a quarter of the population.
The reign of terror led by “Brother Number 1” Pol Pot left some two million Cambodians dead from overwork, starvation and mass executions, Today’s ruling was the first to acknowledge a genocide.
The Khmer Rouge’s former head of state Khieu Samphan, aged 87, and “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, aged 92, are the two most senior living members of the ultra-Maoist group that seized control of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
The defendants were previously handed life sentences in 2014 over the violent and forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975.But the judgement at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) also found Nuon Chea guilty of genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minority group, among a litany of other crimes.
Hundreds of people, including dozens of Cham Muslims and Buddhist monks, were bussed to the tribunal located in the outskirts of Phnom Penh to attend the hearing.
The events covered by the verdict span the four years of the Pol Pot regime and include extensive crimes against humanity. Led by Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge was a radical Maoist movement founded by French-educated intellectuals. They sought to create a self-reliant, agrarian society: cities were emptied and residents forced to work on rural co-operatives.
Many were worked to death while others starved as the economy imploded. During the four violent years they were in power from 1975 to 1979, the Khmer Rouge tortured and killed all those perceived to be enemies – intellectuals, minorities, former government officials – and their families.
The scale and brutality of the killings – meticulously documented by officials – means the regime remains one of the bloodiest of the 20th Century. The regime was defeated in a Vietnamese invasion in 1979.
Pol Pot fled and remained free until 1997, and died under house arrest a year later.