Skip to main content

Infamous leader during Cambodia genocide dies

By Tim Schwarz and Ben Brumfield, CNN
March 14, 2013 -- Updated 0731 GMT (1531 HKT)
File photo of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, where 8,000 human skulls sit in a glass case, in Phnom Penh province. One of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge - responsible for killing more than 1 million people -- died Thursday. File photo of the Choeung Ek Genocidal Center, where 8,000 human skulls sit in a glass case, in Phnom Penh province. One of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge - responsible for killing more than 1 million people -- died Thursday.
HIDE CAPTION
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
Bloody history of the Khmer Rouge
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • He escapes justice for alleged genocide
  • Genocide in Cambodia in the 1970's killed more than a million
  • The defendants are all over age 77, and critics say the trial is dragging on
  • People in Cambodia have shown high interest in the trial

(CNN) -- It was one of the worst genocides since the Nazi era. The brutal Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975 and terrorized the population for four years, killing more than one million people.

One of its infamous leaders died Thursday, escaping judgment for war crimes at the hands of a U.N. tribunal.

Ieng Sary passed away in the capital Phnom Penh at age 87, the United Nations-backed court for Cambodia said.

He was the foreign minister under, and the brother-in-law-of, Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot.

On Tuesday, he was hospitalized for stomach pains.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia -- the U.N.-backed court -- will establish the cause of death before releasing his body to his family.

A look at Cambodia's 'killing fields'

Ieng Sary's death leaves just two defendants facing judgment by the tribunal.

His wife, Ieng Thirith, was excluded from the case after she was deemed unfit to stand trial in September 2012.

But charges of torture and murder will continue against the remaining defendants -- former nominal head of state Khieu Samphan and former prime minister Nuon Chea.

Proceedings halted

Following Ieng Sary's death, Amnesty International asked the court to continue with its proceedings without delay.

"The news of Ieng Sary's death will be difficult for the victims of the Khmer Rouge crimes who have waited so long for justice," said Rupert Abbott of the human rights group.

The court has faced criticism that it has proceeded too slowly with the trial. The defendants are more than 77 years old, and more of them could die before facing judgment.

On Tuesday, proceedings came to a grinding halt after local staffers walked out, saying they will not return until they are paid wages owed by the cash-strapped court for the last three months.

A bloody period

Pol Pot came to power as a communist revolutionary after toppling the U.S. backed government in Phnom Penh, when American troops left the region in 1975 at the end of the Vietnam war.

For the next four years, the communist Khmer Rouge under Pol Pot was blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people through torture, execution, hard labor and starvation.

Pol Pot's rule became known as the era of the killing fields when cities were emptied and residents slaughtered.

A Vietnamese invasion in 1979 forced the Khmer Rouge to retreat back to the jungle.

The dictator died in 1998 before the tribunal's existence and never faced trial.

Double jeopardy?

The Vietnamese who invaded Cambodia quickly put Ieng Sary on trial and convicted him in absentia in 1979. When he defected from what remained of the broken Khmer Rouge regime in 1996, the Cambodian king pardoned him.

The defense for Ieng Sary once argued that the case against him should be dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy -- a defendant cannot be tried twice for the same crime.

The court considered the motion.

CNN's Sara Sidner contributed to this report

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 2319 GMT (0719 HKT)
China and likely other countries have the capacity to shut down the U.S. power grid, says the NSA.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
If it wasn't for a comic's skit, Bill Cosby would still be America's favorite father, says expert.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Obama orders the most sweeping overhaul of U.S. immigration in decades, prioritizing the deportation of "felons, not families."
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2106 GMT (0506 HKT)
Fighters loyal to ISIS are now in control of Derna, a city on Libya's Mediterranean coast.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1945 GMT (0345 HKT)
The founder of a U.S. nonprofit that works with returning soldiers is named CNN's Hero of the Year.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1324 GMT (2124 HKT)
It's a very big challenge but NASA chief scientist Ellen Stofan thinks it can be done.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0039 GMT (0839 HKT)
CNN's Atika Shubert explains how the most recent ISIS video differs from the other previous hostage execution videos.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
A Syrian cleric condemns ISIS and its execution of U.S. hostage Peter Kassig.
November 16, 2014 -- Updated 1720 GMT (0120 HKT)
Volunteer fighters in eastern Ukraine dig down just 800 meters from the front line.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 1729 GMT (0129 HKT)
TV anchor wears the same suit for a year. Female colleague wears new outfit daily. Who gets criticized?
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1204 GMT (2004 HKT)
Each day, CNN brings you an image capturing a moment to remember, defining the present in our changing world.
Browse through images from CNN teams around the world that you don't always see on news reports.
ADVERTISEMENT