Last surviving Khmer Rouge leader appeals genocide conviction

Khieu Samphan is one of only three people convicted over the group’s brutal rule during which some two million people died.

Khieu Samphan, Cambodia’s last surviving senior Khmer Rouge leader, has begun an appeal against his conviction on charges of genocide during the brutal regime’s rule in Cambodia more than 40 years ago.

Ninety-year-old Khieu Samphan was the Khmer Rouge’s head of state. He was convicted in 2018 by a UN-backed court on charges of genocide relating to the minority Vietnamese.

His lawyers on Monday argued the tribunal had taken a “selective approach” to witness testimony and not given proper weight to evidence in his favour.

They also said the tribunal had convicted him using legal criteria that he could not have known at the time the alleged crimes took place.

The Khmer Rouge, under Pol Pot who was known as “Brother Number 1”, took control of Cambodia in 1975. Some two million Cambodians died during their four years in power, during which they tried to turn the country into an agrarian utopia.

Khieu Samphan was jailed alongside “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea for life for genocide and a host of other crimes, including forced marriages and rapes. Nuon Chea died in 2019.

The pair were previously handed life sentences by the court in 2014 for crimes against humanity over the violent forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975, when Khmer Rouge troops drove the population of the capital into rural labour camps.

The hearing at a special courtroom in Phnom Penh is due to last until Thursday and Khieu Samphan is expected to testify at the close of the appeal hearing, according to a court official.

At the close of his genocide trial in 2017, he spoke angrily to the court, denying the charges against him and rejecting the label of “murderer” in forceful closing remarks.

Khieu Samphan, who was one of the Khmer Rouge’s few public faces as its head of state, claimed he was not part of the killing machine that exterminated nearly a quarter of Cambodia’s population.

He denied responsibility for the mass murders and other abuses against Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, which were described in chilling detail by more than 100 witnesses throughout the three-year trial.

Pol Pot died in 1998 without facing trial.

Former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife also died before they could be tried.

The hybrid court was created with UN backing in 2006 to try senior Khmer Rouge leaders.

It has convicted only three people so far and cost more than $300m.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was also once part of the Khmer Rouge, has spoken against any further cases, claiming it would create instability.