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In Cambodia, Khieu Samphan, the last living Khmer Rouge dignitary, sentenced to life imprisonment

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For its final decision before dissolution, the special court responsible for trying the Khmer Rouge for their atrocities confirmed on appeal the life sentence for Khieu Samphan, the last living dignitary, for genocide, Thursday, September 22 in Phnom Penh. The 91-year-old former head of state of Democratic Kampuchea was also found guilty of crimes against humanity – murder, enslavement, forced marriages, rape – and serious violations of the Geneva Conventions.

Khieu Samphan “had direct knowledge of the crimes and shared the intent to commit them with the other participants in the joint criminal enterprise” which killed nearly two million people between 1975 and 1979, Judge Kong Srim recalled. The charges against him are associated with “some of the most heinous acts” of the ultra-Maoist dictatorship, insisted the President of the Chamber of the Supreme Court.

Khieu Samphan attended the judgment, in court, on his wheelchair, listening to the two and a half hour pronouncement through an audio headset. He has already been sentenced to life in 2014 – verdict confirmed on appeal in 2016 – for crimes against humanity committed during the forced evacuation of the inhabitants of Phnom Penh, in the first part of his river trial, started in 2011 .

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A “historic day”

Nearly 500 people, including families of victims, Buddhist monks and diplomats, attended the hearing, a “historic day” according to court spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

Khieu Samphan, one of the rare public faces of the regime, has always denied his involvement in the acts of which he is accused, in particular in the genocide against the Vietnamese. This count does not concern the massacres, even of mass, of the Khmers by the Khmers which are not considered by the United Nations as a genocide.

Khieu Samphan is the third Khmer Rouge dignitary to be sentenced by this special court, made up of Cambodian and international judges. Kaing Guek Eav, alias Douch, was sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The former torturer, head of the country’s most fearsome detention center at the time, S21, died in 2020, aged 77.

Read also Cambodia: “Douch”, former Khmer Rouge torturer, is dead

Dissolution in three years

The judges imposed the same sentence on Nuon Chea, the movement’s ideologue, for genocide, against Vietnamese and Cham Muslims, and crimes against humanity. He died in August 2019 at the age of 93. “Brother Number One”Pol Pot, died in 1998, without being judged.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are now preparing to close their doors without having dispelled the controversies that have undermined them from the start. The dropping of charges in recent years against three people accused of genocide or crimes against humanity has reminded us of their fragility in a country ruled by a repentant former Khmer Rouge commander, Hun Sen, who has spoken out against any new trial in name of national stability.

Its cost, more than 330 million dollars, compared to the number of convictions, also fueled suspicions. Its last case closed, the Court must dissolve in three years, after completing its archival work, among other things.

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The World with AFP