[JURIST] The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [Center for Justice and Accountability background] found former Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan guilty of crimes against humanity committed between 17 April 1975 and December 1977. They were sentenced to life imprisonment. As the first top-level leaders to be held accountable for the regime's crimes, Chea served as Pol Pot's [BBC profile] deputy, and Samphan was the head of state. Judge Nil Nonn found the men guilty of crimes against humanity of extermination (encompassing murder), political persecution and other inhumane acts (comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity). Lawyers for Chea and Samphan have stated their intent to appeal the ruling [BBC report]. Chea and Samphan maintain that they were unaware of the extent of the killings.
The case against the former leaders began in 2010, but the court did not hear closing arguments [JURIST report] until last year. The ECCC, established in 2001, has run into several controversies in its history. Last year the tribunal was forced to obtain a loan [JURIST report] to pay striking workers to cover unpaid salaries. The strike began [JURIST report] earlier that month. Also that month the ECCC's international prosecutor announced his resignation [JURIST report] from the tribunal. The Khmer Rouge has been blamed for the deaths of more than 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979. Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] reported [JURIST report] that the refusal by the government of Cambodia to pay Cambodian staff at the ECCC was an attempt to undermine efforts to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.