Two senior leaders from Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge have been convicted of genocide, almost four decades after the communist regime was overthrown.
Nuon Chea, 92, and former President Khieu Samphan, 87, were sentenced to life in prison on Friday at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). Both denied the charges.
Between 1.7 million and 2.2 million people – almost a quarter of the population at that time – died from starvation, torture, exhaustion and disease in labour camps between 1975 and 1979 when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge was in power.
Convicted in 2014 for crimes against humanity related to the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975, Chea and Samphan were already serving life sentences.
Judge Nil Nonn ruled Chea and Samphan committed genocide against the Cham — an indigenous group that mostly practices Islam — and Vietnamese minorities to create “an atheistic and homogenous society without class divisions”.
The Cham "were dispersed and scattered among Khmer villages for their communities to be broken up and fully assimilated into the Cambodian population," he said.
“A great number of Cham civilians were taken... and were thus killed on a massive scale”.
Buddhists were also targeted by the Khmer Rouge regime, Nil Nonn said.