Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Khmer Rouge senior leader Nuon Chea dies in hospital

Former senior Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea. ECCC

Former senior Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, who was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for genocide, died in hospital yesterday.

Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC), said that Chea died yesterday evening at the Khmer Soviet Friendship Hospital where he had been hospitalized last month.

Last year, Chea, 93, former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 87, were sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of the genocide of ethnic Vietnamese and Cham as well as crimes against humanity including, rape, forced marriage and religious prohibition.

An estimated 1.7 million people died of overwork, starvation, disease and execution during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-1979 brutal rule.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Chea’s death could affect the Khmer Rouge Tribunal’s progress.

“He never confessed to killing Cambodian people,” Chhang said. “He tried to shun responsibility before the law but finally he passed away.”

Tuol Sleng prison survivor Chum Mey, 87, said Chea’s death was his sin.

“It is his sin because he killed a lot of people,” Mey said.

Chea’s body was set to be returned last night to Pailin province, where his family will hold a funeral.

Chea, born on July 7, 1926, was a member of the Standing Committee and Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, and chairman of the Democratic Kampuchea People’s Assembly.

He was apprehended on September 19, 2007 and put on trial before the ECCC on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Convention.

He was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment for Case 002/01 on August 7, 2014.

On November 23, 2016, the Supreme Court Chamber quashed part of the convictions but affirmed the life imprisonment imposed by the Trial Chamber.

On November 16, 2018, he was convicted for a second case, Case 002/02, for genocide, crimes against humanity and breaches of the Geneva Convention alongside Samphan. The Trial Chamber merged the life sentences imposed in Case 002/01 and Case 002/02 to form a single life sentence against him.

The ECCC, a joint establishment between the Cambodian government and the United Nations, convicted three senior leaders of the brutal regime and sentenced them to life imprisonment, including Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who commanded the S-21 torture center.

Ieng Sary, the former foreign affairs minister, and his wife Ieng Thirith, former social affairs minister, died in 2013 and 2015 while the regime’s leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998 before he could be prosecuted.