GUILTY of genocide, they will live out their last days in prison.

Yesterday, the last surviving leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia were convicted by an international tribunal.

In the courtroom were members of the Cham and Vietnamese minorities that the regime had sought to destroy.

Some brought their grandchildren to witness the sentencing of the two men, 92-year-old Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, 87, for atrocities carried out 40 years earlier. During the four-year reign of the Khmer Rouge, up to two million lives were lost.


GROWING from the armed wing of the Communist Party of Kampuchea to become the Cambodia’s ruling force, it seized capital Phnom Penh in 1975 to take charge of the country.

Millions were forced from the cities to communal farms in the country as leader Pol Pot attempted to create his own agrarian utopia inspired by hill tribes.

Money, property and religion were banned, with punishable offences including anything deemed to denote intellectualism, including the wearing of glasses or capability in foreign languages. While many died by execution, others succumbed to disease, starvation, torture and exhaustion.


VIETNAMESE troops helped oust the Khmer Rouge in a 1979 invasion which followed a succession of border clashes carried out in support of anti-Khmer Rouge Cambodian “Renakse” forces.

Stories of the atrocities began to filter out to the wider world, with Hollywood drama The Killing Fields, released in 1984, further exposing the horrors perpetrated on the populace.

The search for justice, however, has taken far longer.


THAT, in part, is what makes the new convictions so significant.

It took until 1997 to put him in the dock in a show trial organised after former followers changed allegiance, denouncing him for crimes against humanity.

He was sentenced to house arrest and died one year later at the age of 73 – something which prevented survivors of his regime from seeking real justice.

The ‘97 trial came after Pot ordered the killing of political associate Son Sen, along with more than a dozen of his family members, including grandchildren.

In an interview carried out that year, the former dictator told the Far Eastern Economic Review: “For the other people, the babies, the young ones, I did not order them to be killed.’’

He also told the magazine: ‘’I came to carry out the struggle, not to kill people.

"Even now – and you can look at me – am I a savage person?’’


A TRIBUNAL established with the support of the United Nations tried surviving Khmer Rouge figureheads from 2009, with just three sentenced as a result.

They include Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are the subject of the fresh convictions.

In 2014, the pair were given life sentences for crimes against humanity, with the new judgement marking the first-ever genocide convictions over the bloody period.

And in 2012 Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Comrade Duch, was jailed for life for running Tuol Sleng prison, the scene of some of the worst brutality.

As many as 17,000 people were held at the Phnom Penh facility, including children.


IT confirms genocide against both minorities, who were among several groups persecuted by the Khmer Rouge.

Until now, there had been questions over whether or not the treatment of the Cham fit the definition of genocide.

The group, which practices Islam, had attempted to resist the regime.

While he was found guilty of genocide against people of Vietnamese origin on the grounds of joint command responsibility, lack of evidence meant Khieu Samphan was found not guilty of the same crime against the Cham.

Offences carried out include murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, enforced disappearances, forced marriages and rape.


IT took place in a courtroom constructed specially for the tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

While both men were present for the opening of proceedings, Judge Nil Nonn gave permission for Nuon Chea to leave for a separate holding room due to his heart problems. He was accused as the tribunal heard details of the crimes carried out against ordinary people.

Methods of interrogation included “beatings with sticks, rocks, electrical wire, whips, electric shocks and suffocation and the extraction of of toenails and fingernails”.

Both men had argued that they were the subject of political persecution.

However, prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian said: “It was such an evil regime and it was the worst example of what a government can do. This verdict is very timely and very necessary. The fact that these crimes happened 40 years ago in no way diminishes the impact of this verdict for those who were affected by the crimes.”


THESE may be the last men to stand trial over the Khmer Rouge crimes.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power since 1985, has said any further prosecutions could destabilise the country, which is building its tourism industry as efforts to recover from the atrocities continue. The politician was himself a Khmer Rouge commander who defected before the regime was ousted and took charge shortly after it lost its grip.

And although four lesser-ranking members had been the focus of preparatory work for a further two prosecution cases, these have not progressed.

Attending the tribunal with his wife and four granddaughters yesterday, Cham man Lah Sath, 72, recalled how his younger brother had been killed by the regime when members deemed he had not taken good enough care of a cow.

On the impact of the tribunal, Rutgers University professor Alexander Hinton, who has written extensively about it, said: “International tribunals are better than the alternative, impunity. They will always be political and fall short of expectations. But justice is usually delivered.”