The Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has upheld the life sentence against former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan.

Samphan, now 91 and the only surviving former Khmer Rouge leader, received a life term in 2018 on charges of crimes against humanity, genocide and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

In its September 22 ruling, the Supreme Court Chamber stated that the life sentence is just, given the atrocities suffered by the Cambodian people during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. It ruled that the decision is final and not subject to further appeals.

“[Samphan’s] life term in Case 002/02 shall be served concurrently with his life sentence in case 002/01,” stated Kong Srim, president of the Supreme Court Chamber.

Standing Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin, who is also in charge of facilitating the ECCC process, said at a press conference after the announcement of the verdict that it would provide closure to a dark chapter in the Kingdom’s history that Cambodian people have been waiting to see for a long time.

Chhin said this was also a meaningful event for the whole of humanity in regards to the search for justice for human rights violations under the umbrella of international law.

“The legacy of the ECCC must be preserved and its lessons disseminated to the next generations to understand and prevent the recurrence of such genocide,” he said, adding that providing justice to the victims also contributed to protecting peace and stability while promoting national reconciliation and preventing tragedy from returning in the future.

“The ECCC has contributed to safety through local reconciliation, strengthening the rule of law and ending impunity. Now the ECCC will become an institution dedicated to the transfer of its accumulated knowledge,” he continued.

Stephen Mathias, assistant secretary-general for legal affairs on the UN side, said at the press conference that this case was in response to some of the biggest international crimes ever committed, and the ruling denying Samphan’s further appeal has potential implications for the development of the international criminal code.

He said the ECCC has shown great professional capacity by enabling legal procedures to be carried out based on international standards.

“This is an historic event for the ECCC and for international justice. This verdict – the final verdict at the ECCC – brings closure to all of its court cases,” he said.

He emphasised that this verdict reflects the long-term commitment made by the UN, the Cambodian government and the international community to ensuring that justice has been brought to Cambodia for the victims of crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Following the pronouncement of the verdict, Japan’s foreign ministry issued a statement expressing its deep gratitude and respect for the many people who contributed to the success of the trials over the years.

“The Khmer Rouge trials are a crucial step toward the conclusion of the entire peace process in Cambodia, and the tribunal contributed to delivering justice and strengthening the rule of law in the country. In light of this, Japan has been playing a leading role in the international community in extending support for the trials,” the statement said.

The statement noted that Japan had provided financial assistance for the ECCC roughly to the tune of $88.67 million, including $72.18 million to the international side and $16.49 million to the Cambodian side. These funds represented nearly 30 per cent of all international assistance for the ECCC since 2006.

US ambassador to Cambodia W Patrick Murphy was among foreign diplomats in attendance at the hearing.

“The ECCC closes its final legal case, but its legacy must ensure we never forget these crimes against humanity or the regime’s many victims,” he told the media.

Hun Many, chairman of the 7th Commission of National Assembly who was also present at the hearing, said the verdict is a historic day for justice for the Cambodian people and everyone who suffered under the cruel genocidal regime.

He hopes the final verdict brings closure and eases the suffering, sorrow and trauma of the surviving victims, in what he describes as “the only lasting legacy of a dark regime”.

“Although this verdict marks the end of the legal process, we all must never forget the tragedy that our nation and people underwent, especially the suffering of those who were separated over the fate of those they had left behind.

“That is what it means when we say ‘never forget’ – words that are used by our leaders and by all victims of genocide,” he said.

ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra said earlier this week that after the pronouncement of Samphan’s final verdict, the ECCC will still have another three years left to carry out its two main remaining tasks.

He said the two tasks are instituting a system of management for the archives of the ECCC’s trial cases in order to preserve them and make them available to scholars, historians, students and others, along with establishing mechanisms for their continued use in the education of the public through dissemination of information about the ECCC’s important achievements.

Pheaktra recalled that the ECCC’s 16-year mission began in February 2006 up to August of this year at a total cost of $337.7 million – of which Cambodia provided $45.5 million in funding, while international donors provided another $292.2 million.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), said in a press release after Samphan’s verdict that education is the next step toward atrocity crimes prevention.

DC-Cam, which maintains the world’s largest repository of the Khmer Rouge documents, has taken the lead role in supplying the ECCC with half a million evidentiary documents and testimonial accounts of survivors of the regime.

He said DC-Cam, in collaboration with the UN Office of the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide (OSAPG), was proud to witness the conclusion of the final session of its three-part training programme on atrocity crimes prevention through education in the Southeast Asian region.