Cambodia’s U.N. backed war crimes tribunal has sentenced the last two surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to life imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The now frail 88-year-old Nuon Chea and 83-year-old Khieu Samphan were leaders of the Khmer Rouge — a fanatic Maoist regime that ruled Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 causing the death of at least 1.7 million people from overwork, torture, starvation and execution.
Chea served as deputy to the leader Pol Pott who died in 1998 and was perceived to be the ideological mastermind behind the regime whose pet slogan was “To spare you is no profit; to destroy you, no loss.” Khieu Samphan was the Maoist regime’s head of state.
Until now, no senior leaders of the regime have ever been prosecuted.
The Khmehr Rouge took power in 1975 and, driven by Maoist Ideology, sought to create an agrarian society. Intellectuals, officials and minorities were executed as enemies of the state or worked to death at rural cooperatives. The capital city Phnom Penh was emptied and its residence were forced to work in the countryside and join the revolution.
Long before the Khmehr Rouge took power, Cambodia counted among the more prosperous countries of Southeast Asia, butdue to the extreme violence of the fanatical Khmehr Rouge, today it numbers among the poorest. The ideological attempt to remove the educated class has left its mark on modern Cambodia where agriculture is still the largest source of income. By the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, it is thought there were only fifty doctors left in the whole country for a population of 14 million.
The average annual wage in Cambodia is only US $256, and out of 187 countries Cambodia ranks 136th on the U.N. human development index.
Cambodia is still in a phase of recovery from the Khmer Rouge days and the first imprisonment of the regime’s leaders is a long awaited justice. Many Cambodians whose lives were destroyed and families split up due to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge are frustrated with the time it has taken to finally achieve some justice, which many feel is still not nearly enough.
Chea and Samphan will now serve the remainder of their lives in prison. A separate trail for genocide started a few days ago. The trials for crimes against humanity and genocide were split in order to bring the men to justice more quickly.
– Charles Bell
Sources: Poverties, World Bank, Crimes of War, BBC, UNDP
Photo: Afghanistan Times