Cambodia court rejects Khmer Rouge leaders' appeal against conviction

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(CNN) — Two senior leaders of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime had their life sentences for crimes against humanity upheld in a Cambodian court on Wednesday.

Nuon Chea, also known as "Brother Two", and Khieu Samphan, or "Brother Four," were found guilty in August 2014, in front of a specially-convened Cambodian court, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Both men had appealed their verdict, calling for the trial's judgment to be reversed.

Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were two of the most senior leaders of Cambodia's brutal Khmer Rouge regime, in power from 1975 to 1979.

About a quarter of Cambodia's population – at least 1.7 million people – are believed to have died during that period, from forced labor, starvation, and execution.

Reaction to verdict divided

Nushin Sarkarati, Center for Justice and Accountability Staff Attorney, who represents Khmer Rouge victims in the U.S. diaspora at the ECCC, said they welcomed the verdict.

"Today's decision affirms that it was not error or bias that led to the final verdict, but instead overwhelming evidence brought by victims and witnesses that established the truth and gravity of these crimes," she said in a statement.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said the trial had been "possibly the most expensive conviction in history," taking 10 years to get from arrest to appeal and costing $260 million.

"It's 40 years too late ... the right verdict but at the wrong cost," he said.

Adams said many Cambodians felt cheated by the two men's insistence on their innocence, denying the country an explanation for their crimes.

"I think there will never be an explanation or an apology from the architects of the 21st century's worst genocide," he said.

'No action can assuage the anguish'

During its time in power, the Khmer Rouge regime attempted to create a purely agrarian society through ruthless social engineering policies.

In 2001, Cambodia's National Assembly voted to create a court to try the crimes of those associated with the regime.

But for many, the few convictions that have followed have done little to heal wounds left by the Khmer Rouge.

"No action can assuage the anguish, sadness and regret that haunts the survivors to this day," former Khmer Rouge prisoner Youk Chhang wrote for CNN in 2014.

"Over 35 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, we still see the effects from this period in almost every facet of Cambodian society."

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