The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established in 2001 in response to the allegations of “atrocity crimes” committed by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. The Cambodian government sought the assistance of the United Nations to bring perpetrators to justice, thus forming a hybrid tribunal that utilized both domestic and international law. The tribunal operates in Cambodia, though independently of both the Cambodian government and the United Nations. It is a domestic court with Cambodian legal proceedings, the ECCC is comprised of both Cambodian and international lawyers and judges who work to enforce domestic and international laws.
The ECCC’s jurisdiction is limited to Cambodian atrocity crimes committed between April 17, 1975, and January 6, 1979. The court agreed to try senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea and “those believed to be most responsible grave violations of national and international law.” Under Cambodian law, the ECCC jurisdiction includes cases of murder, torture, and religious persecution. Jurisdiction under international law extends to crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva conventions, destruction of cultural property, and crimes against internationally-protected persons.
The first investigation began in 2007 and, thus far, a total of five individuals have been accused:
The first case completed at the ECCC was that of Kaing Guek Eav, known as “Comrade Duch” during his administration of the infamous Tuol Sleng prison and the Santebal, a special branch of internal security for the Khmer Rouge. He was indicted on July 31, 2007, and went to trial on September 17, 2009. The indictment contained multiple counts of violations of Cambodian law, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. The trial concluded on November 27, 2010. Kaing Guek Eav was convicted on all counts on July 26, 2010, and sentenced to thirty-five years in prison.
Nuon Chea was Deputy Secretary to Pol Pot, and in charge of Phnom Penh’s S-21 torture and interrogation center. He is the highest ranking official of the Khmer Rouge to be tried, and is alleged to have played a crucial role in the genocide during his tenure. He was indicted on multiple counts of violation of Cambodian law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide on September 15, 2010. Hearings began on June 27, 2011. He denied all charges but was ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to imprisonment for the remainder of his life. He appealed the verdict, but his life sentence was upheld in November of 2016.
Also indicted on September 15, 2010, was Ieng Sary, the Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs for the Khmer Rouge. Ieng is alleged to have been involved with planning and execution of the extermination plans of the government and is charged with multiple counts of violations of Cambodian law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. His trial also began on June 27, 2011. The proceedings against Ieng Sary were terminated on 14 March 2013, and he died the very same day.
Khieu Samphan‘s trial also began June 27, 2011. Samphan was a high-ranking official and eventually succeeded Pol Pot as leader of the Khmer Rouge in 1987. Samphan was indicated on September 15, 2010 on multiple counts of violation of Cambodian law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide. He was given a life sentence. He appealed the verdict, but his life sentence was upheld in November of 2016.
Ieng Thirith, the highest ranking woman in the Khmer Rouge, was the Minister of Social Affairs. The wife of Ieng Sary and sister-in-law of Pol Pot, Ieng Thirith was indicted of multiple counts of violation of Cambodian law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide on September 15, 2010. Proceedings against Ieng Thirith were suspended and she was conditionally released on September 16, 2012, based on expert testimony that Ieng suffers from dementia, likely Alzheimer’s disease, and is not competent to stand trial. Victims groups have protested the decision to release Ieng. She passed away on August 22, 2015.
For more information, visit www.eccc.gov.kh/en.
This page was written jointly by Christie Nicoson, Former Program and Operations Coordinator, Lisa Dailey, Former News Associate, and Rachel Hall Beecroft, Former Program and Operations Coordinator. This page was updated February 2017.
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