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Khmer Rouge leaders convicted of genocide

Khmer Rouge leaders convicted of genocide

A UN-backed court found two leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge guilty of genocide on Friday, nearly four decades after the ultra-Maoist regime which oversaw the "Killing Fields" was overthrown.

The tribunal also found guilty of genocide, two men who are the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge: 92-year-old Nuon Chea, who was second to Pol Pot in its chain of command, and 87-year-old Khieu Samphan, who was head of state.

However, the judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal said that while genocide was also committed against the minority Cham - Muslims who were forced to eat pork, banned from prayer, and had their Korans burned - the two men did not have "genocidal intent".

They were found guilty of murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, forced marriages, rape, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, and other inhumane acts.

Both Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea appeared for the court session but Nuon Chea left after about 40 minutes because of back pain, the court was told. The prison and the courthouse were custom built for the use of the tribunal, which is officially called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC. Instead, their radical policies led to what has been termed "auto-genocide" through starvation, overwork and execution.

Today's verdict was the first time a court has ruled that the Khmer Rouge committed genocide.

Khieu Samphan, looking frail and gaunt, stood in the dock with the help of prison guards when Nil Nonn read the verdict.

"Only five people have been put on trial, with three convicted".

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Just talking about the Khmer Rouge brought back disgusting memories of life in those years, he said. The Cham were treated as enemies and exploited without mercy as they were forced to do intensive farm labor, he recalled.

With the vast majority of those slaughtered in the "Killing Fields" by the Khmer Rouge being fellow Cambodians, legal experts had been unsure whether genocide would apply.

The tribunal in 2010 also convicted Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture centre in Phnom Penh.

There are fears that politics will thwart the tribunal from undertaking any further prosecutions.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who defected to the regime's eventual conquerors, Vietnam, said he would "not allow" any new indictments beyond the handful of top leaders.

The global tribunal to judge the criminal responsibility of former Khmer Rouge leaders for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians has opened its session to deliver its verdicts on charges of genocide and other crimes.

Scheffer said that "challenges of efficiency, funding, and access to evidence" are issues that plague all worldwide criminal courts, but argued the successes of the Cambodian tribunal should not be diminished. "But justice is usually delivered, even if at times, as has been the case with the ECCC, it staggers across the finish line".