PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A top Cambodian court on Wednesday upheld the life sentences for the two most senior surviving members of the Khmer Rouge regime, which is responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people, saying that the massive scale of the crimes showed the two men's complete lack of consideration for the lives of the Cambodians.
The Supreme Court Chamber said the 2014 verdict by a U.N.-assisted Khmer Rouge tribunal was "appropriate" given the gravity of the crimes and roles of the two defendants — Khieu Samphan, the 85-year-old Khmer Rouge head of state, and Nuon Chea, the 90-year-old right-hand man to the communist group's late leader Pol Pot.
The two men, who were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity, sat impassively as the lengthy verdict was read out. They were detained in 2007 and started serving their sentences in 2014.
Some 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from starvation, disease and execution due to the extremist policies of the communist Khmer Rouge when they held power from 1975 to 1979.
"The gravity of the crimes should be reflected in the sentence ... the crimes were not isolated events but occurred over an extended period of time," said Kong Srim, president of the Supreme Court Chamber.
Given the "significant role of the accused, the Supreme Court Chamber considers that the imposition of the life sentence for each of the accused is appropriate and therefore confirms the sentence imposed by the trial chamber," he said, as he wrapped up a two-hour reading of the verdict.
He added that the "massive scale of the crimes" showed a complete lack of consideration for the "ultimate fate of the Cambodian population, especially the most vulnerable group."
Lawyers for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea filed lengthy appeals against their verdicts by the Khmer Rouge tribunal — formally called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was set up in 2006. They had alleged a slew of legal and factual errors, as well as biases by the judges.
They suggested that their clients were unfairly being singled out while the Cambodian government sought to block the tribunal from trying other suspects.
The two defendants are also on trial in a second case where they are facing charges of genocide against ethnic minorities and foreigners, and implementing policies of rape and forced marriages.
Originally all the charges were to have been part of one trial, but fears that they would die before proceedings could finish led to their case being broken into two parts, know as Case 002/01 and 002/02.
Their two co-defendents, Ieng Sary, the third-ranking Khmer Rouge leader and its foreign minister, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, died during the first phase of their trial.