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  • Justice served cold    August 7 
Two Khmer Rouge leaders sentenced to life for 1970s Cambodia war crimes
CC by: ECCC/Mark Peters
CC by: ECCC/Mark Peters

On Thursday, a United Nations–backed tribunal in Cambodia convicted the two remaining senior Khmer Rouge leaders of war crimes and genocide, and sentenced them to life in prison. They will likely be short sentences — Khieu Samphan, the head of state during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror in the 1970s, is now 83, and Nuon Chea, its chief ideologue, is 88.

More than 1.7 million people — a quarter of Cambodia's population — died in the Khmer Rouge "killing fields," purges, and forced relocations between 1975 and 1979. The tribunal's chief judge, Nil Nonn, said the men are guilty of "extermination encompassing murder, political persecution, and other inhumane acts comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances, and attacks against human dignity." Both men said they would appeal, but they will stay in detention during the process.

During the trial, which started in 2011, Khieu Samphan blamed the killings on top Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, who died in 1998; Nuon Chea defended the regime and blamed Vietnamese troops for the massacres. Two other senior regime leaders were put on trial at the same time, but one of the defendants died in 2013 and the other was declared unfit for trial due to dementia in 2012.

"The victims have waited 35 years for legal accountability," conceded tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen, but "now that the tribunal has rendered a judgment, it is a clear milestone" as well as "a historic day for both the Cambodian people and the court."

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