The international court convened in Cambodia to judge the Khmer Rouge for its brutal 1970s rule has ended its work after spending $337m (€342m) and 16 years to convict just three men of crimes after the regime caused the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
n its final session, the UN-assisted tribunal rejected an appeal by Khieu Samphan, the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge government that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. It reaffirmed the life sentence he received after being convicted in 2018 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Busloads of ordinary Cambodians turned up to watch the final proceedings of a tribunal that had sought to bring justice, accountability and explanations for the crimes.
Many of those attending yesterday’s session lived through the Khmer Rouge terror, including survivors Bou Meng and Chum Mey, who had given evidence at the tribunal.
Khieu Samphan, sitting in a wheelchair and wearing a white windbreaker and a face mask, listened to the proceedings on headphones.
He was the group’s nominal head of state but, in his trial defence, denied having real decision-making powers when the Khmer Rouge carried out a reign of terror to establish a utopian agrarian society.
It was ousted from power in 1979 by an invasion from neighbouring communist state Vietnam.
“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison,” Khieu Samphan said in his final statement of appeal to the court last year.
Yesterday’s ruling makes little practical difference. Khieu Samphan is 91 and already serving another life sentence for his 2014 conviction for crimes against humanity.
His co-defendant Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist, was convicted twice and received the same life sentence. He died in 2019 aged 93.
The tribunal’s only other conviction was that of Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch. He was convicted in 2010 of crimes against humanity, murder, and torture and died in 2020 at age 77 while serving a life sentence.
The Khmer Rouge’s real chief, Pol Pot, escaped justice. He died in the jungle in 1998, aged 72 while the remnants of his movement were fighting their last battles in the guerrilla war they launched after losing power.
With its active work done, the tribunal, formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, now enters a three-year “residual” period, focusing on getting its archives in order and disseminating information about its work for educational purposes.