Ex-Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan in court on Aug. 19 during his appeal against life imprisonment for his role in the genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge. (Photo: Nhet Sok Heng/AFP/ECCC)
Khieu Samphan, the former head of state for the Khmer Rouge, told his UN-backed war crimes trial today that he expects to die alone in prison after appealing his conviction for genocide in a drama-filled last speech.
“After many years of sitting as a defendant at the end of this long case, it is important for me to inform you, and especially inform the Cambodian people, that I never wanted to commit a crime against my compatriots or anyone else,” the 90-year-old said.
“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison. I will die always remembering the suffering of my Cambodian people. I will die seeing death. I am alone in front of you. I am judged symbolically rather than by my actual deed and as an individual. That’s the end.”
The judge then declared the end of 15 years of public hearings into the deaths of up to 2.2 million Cambodians at the hands of Pol Pot’s brutal regime.
Khieu Samphan is the last surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge who ruled Cambodia between 1975 and early 1979. The court has secured convictions for crimes against humanity and genocide against the Muslim Cham and ethnic Vietnamese.
His defense lawyers argued in a four-day hearing that the upper court must overturn the trial chamber’s 2018 verdict of genocide, saying it failed to deliver a written and reasoned verdict on time, which could amount to a violation of the tribunal’s own rules.
There is a huge pile of evidence supporting the sentence against him
The claims were dismissed by prosecutors.
“He cannot prove that the Trial Chamber violated his right to a fair trial,” co-prosecutor Chea Leang said. “There is a huge pile of evidence supporting the sentence against him. That evidence produced just one story, with just one ending.”
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), said a decision on the appeal is not expected until the fourth quarter of next year.
Until then, the court is expected to finalize its legal work and only then will the court have completed its mission, which began in May 2006 when the first judges and prosecutors were appointed to investigate crimes committed under Pol Pot’s rule. Pol Pot died in 1998.
Khieu Samphan was convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison in 2014. The appeals process of that trial has been exhausted, which means he will remain behind bars for life even if his genocide conviction is overturned.
He was put on trial alongside “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, former foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, and Kaing Guek Eav, commonly known as Duch, the former commandant of the dreaded S21 torture and extermination camp.
Duch was found guilty of crimes against humanity and initially sentenced to 40 years but this was extended to life on appeal. He died almost a year ago. Nuon Chea was convicted of crimes against humanity and genocide in a second case. He died in August 2019. Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith died while their cases were being heard.