November 16, 2018 12:18 am
Updated: November 16, 2018 1:30 am

The Khmer Rouge left 1.7 million dead in the 1970s. Two of its leaders were just found guilty of genocide

The remains of victims who died during the Khmer Rouge regime are on display at the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 15, 2018.

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It’s been almost four decades since the Khmer Rouge were in power in Cambodia, reigning with a ruthlessness that left as many as 1.7 million people dead.

On Friday, an international tribunal in the capital Phnom Penh decided that the party had committed genocide during its reign from 1975 to 1979.

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The Phnom Penh Post tweeted early Friday local time that the Khmer Rouge Tribunal found that the party carried out genocide against Vietnamese and Muslim Cham people while it was in power.

The tribunal also found guilty of genocide, two men who are the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge: 92-year-old Nuon Chea, who was second to Pol Pot in its chain of command, and 87-year-old Khieu Samphan, who was head of state.

The two have already been serving life sentences for crimes against humanity; now, they’re expected to face additional sentences, The Guardian reported.

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READ MORE: First Cambodia genocide trial aims to expose crimes

With the Khmer Rouge in power, nearly 2 million were killed due to overwork, starvation or execution, or were even tortured as the party looked to build an agrarian society.

Under the leadership of Saloth Sar, also known as Pol Pot, they did this by declaring “Year Zero” and forcing people to work in rural co-operatives, as described by BBC News.

People were killed for showing foreign influences, such as speaking French or enjoying ballet, The New York Times reported.

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, who was the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, sits in a court room before a hearing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018.

Mark Peters/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia via AP

Chea and Samphan were convicted in a court known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a special body that was established in 2006 with the aim of prosecuting crimes that took place during the party’s reign.

The tribunal has convicted three people. They include Kaing Guek Eavk, known as “Duch,” for his role overseeing the Toul Sleng torture centre, BBC News recounted.

Chea and Samphan were previously convicted for crimes against humanity in a separate trial that took place in 2014.

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state, sits in a court room before a hearing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018. 

Nhet Sok Heng/Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia via AP

The tribunal proved controversial over the years — Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge member, has openly opposed its creation and argued that further trials could inch the country closer to civil war, according to The Guardian.

Others have criticized its slow pace.

It has its defenders, however — like Ly Sok Kheang, who heads the Anlong Veng Peace Center, which works to promote reconciliation in Cambodia.

“We need to show the world that even if it takes a long time, we can deliver justice,” Kheang told the New York Times.

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