Judgment Day for Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan

On Thursday, the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal will find either innocent or guilty two of the remaining members of the Khmer Rouge nucleus, who were tried for a total of 222 days over nearly three years on charges of crimes against humanity.

Pol Pot’s former deputy Nuon Chea, 88, and former Khmer Rouge Head of State Khieu Samphan, 83, are accused of planning and overseeing the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh, the forced transfer of civilians in two other major population movements and the mass executions of soldiers and officials from the preceding Lon Nol regime.

In their closing statements in October, prosecutors argued that the evacuation of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, was the catalyst for a litany of “crimes that shocked the conscience of humanity” over the ensuing three years, eight months and 20 days that the regime held power, during which an estimated 1.7 million people perished.

The two aging defendants are the only ones to remain in the case from the four ex-leaders originally arrested and charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in an indictment spanning 350 pages. The case was split up in 2011, and an initial hearing for the second phase of the trial—which includes charges of genocide—was held last week.

Former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died on March 14, 2013. His wife, former Khmer Rouge Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial after being diagnosed with dementia and released from detention in September 2012.

When Mr. Chea and Mr. Samphan last spoke in court during the closing statements, they remained defiant.

“Do you think that I did not try my best to understand the situation?” asked Mr. Samphan. “Do you really think that was what I wanted to happen to my people?… I was never at any one time a part of this plan. Never.”

Mr. Chea said he devoted his years in the party leadership to “carrying out duties to serve my country and beloved people…. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations.”

Yin Som Un, 63, a victim of the regime who traveled to Phnom Penh from Kratie province to attend Thursday’s verdict, said no decision by the court could make up for what the defendants had put the country through.

“Even if the court finds them guilty and sentences the two accused to life in prison, it will only make the victims feel a sense of calm,” she said.

“But it will never match what we suffered during the Khmer Rouge regime.”

(Additional reporting by Ouch Sony)

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