Friday's verdict in the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan has been hailed as “historic” for “Cambodia and all humanity”, while Minister of Interior Sar Kheng said no further cases of its kind would be brought to court.
“There are no more [top Khmer Rouge leaders left to try], and our policy [is that] now this process has ended,” Sar Kheng said.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, found Nuon Chea, 92, who was second in command to Pol Pot and known as “Brother Number Two”, guilty of genocide against ethnic Vietnamese, the Cham Muslim minority group and former officials in the previous Khmer Republic government.
Samphan, 87, who served as head of state, was found guilty of genocide against the ethnic Vietnamese.
The court sentenced both men to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity carried out between 1977 and 1979.
Bin Chhin, the minister in charge of the Office of the Council of Ministers and the chairman of the government taskforce on the proceedings of the ECCC, said he welcomed the verdicts against Chea and Samphan as “a historic day for Cambodia and all humanity”.
He said he hoped the verdicts would help heal the pain and suffering stemming from the horrific period.
“Today is another historic day, on which the judgement in Case 002/2 was delivered for Cambodia and all humanity in the pursuit of justice in the framework of national and international criminal law.
“We express our hope that this trial and today’s delivery of the verdict in Case 002/2 brings some relief for your pain and suffering,” he said at the ECCC on Friday.
The court announced it had found the pair accountable for extermination, murder, torture, persecution on religious, racial and political grounds, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, rape and forced marriage.
Interior Minister Sar Kheng said on Saturday that although the court had sentenced Chea and Samphan to life in prison, the case was not completely finished as the men can appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. But as it is, no other Khmer Rouge leader would be brought to justice.
“The court’s process is not finished yet because they can appeal to the Supreme Court. Filing an appeal or not, this is another issue and they still have rights. As for [other top Khmer Rouge leaders as] targets to be brought to justice, there are no more left, and our policy [is that] now this process has ended.
“I want to confirm that, because there are brothers and sisters who used to participate in activities with those leaders . . . do not be worried that investigations in this trial will continue – there are no more [Khmer Rouge leaders left],” he said.
Meanwhile, UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide Adama Dieng hailed the convictions for holding the pair accountable for their crimes and providing justice for the victims.
“While criminal accountability is foremost a tool to provide justice and redress to victims, it also has an important preventative function as a deterrent as well as to help societies in reconciliation efforts and to deal with the past."
“At a time when we are witnessing a dangerous disregard for fundamental rights and international legal norms and standards in many parts of the world, this decision sends a strong message, in the region and globally, to those who commit, incite or condone atrocity crimes,” he said.
The US hailed the ECCC’s verdict as historic and said it applauded the victims for their “relentless pursuit” of justice.
Soy Sen, 60, a former prisoner at Kraing Tachan prison and a trial witnesses, said, however, that victims would not be satisfied with the verdict because Chea and Samphan had already received life imprisonment on previous charges and there was no compensation available for victims, while other Khmer Rouge leaders would not be brought to justice.
“[The ECCC] has cost millions of dollars and has taken so long, but when the verdict came, we are not satisfied with it and I see no meaning for victims because Nuon Chea’s and Khieu Samphan’s was the last trial and now . . . it is finished."
“We cannot accept this. We want to see the court bring all the top Khmer Rouge leaders to justice . . . the leaders of the Khmer Rouge were not just four or five people but many,” he said.
Trial Chamber of the Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the Trial Chamber of the Khmer Rouge tribunal does not comment on issues related to it and the court would continue its process as normal.