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Life sentences for Khmer Rouge leaders upheld by Cambodian court

Published 23/11/2016

Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan, left, and Nuon Chea pictured in 2003 - a court has upheld their life sentences (AP)
Former Khmer Rouge leaders Khieu Samphan, left, and Nuon Chea pictured in 2003 - a court has upheld their life sentences (AP)

A top Cambodian court has upheld the life sentences of the two most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge regime, which was responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

The Supreme Court Chamber said the 2014 verdict by a UN.-assisted Khmer Rouge tribunal was "appropriate" given the gravity of the crimes and roles of the two defendants - Khieu Samphan, 85, the Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, 90, the right-hand man to the communist group's late leader Pol Pot.

The two men, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, sat impassively as the lengthy verdict was read out on Wednesday.

About 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from starvation, disease and executions during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge rule.

The court said the massive scale of the crimes showed the two men's complete lack of consideration for the lives of the Cambodians.

"It is a historic day for Cambodia. For the first time in 41 years someone in the national leadership has been held criminally responsible for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime," said tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen.

The two men were detained in 2007 and started serving their sentences in 2014 inside the Khmer Rouge tribunal's facility, where conditions are much better than ordinary Cambodian prisons. They have access to radio and television.

"The gravity of the crimes should be reflected in the sentence ... the crimes were not isolated events but occurred over an extended period of time," said Kong Srim, president of the Supreme Court Chamber.

Given the "significant role of the accused, the Supreme Court Chamber considers that the imposition of the life sentence for each of the accused is appropriate and therefore confirms the sentence imposed by the trial chamber," he said, as he wrapped up a two-hour reading of the verdict.

He added that the "massive scale of the crimes" showed a complete lack of consideration for the "ultimate fate of the Cambodian population, especially the most vulnerable group".

Lawyers for the two men filed lengthy appeals against their verdicts by the Khmer Rouge tribunal - formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was set up in 2006.

They had alleged a series of legal and factual errors, and that the judges were biased, and suggested their clients were unfairly being singled out while the Cambodian government sought to block the tribunal from trying other suspects.

AP

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