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
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Tethered to an IV drip, 71-year-old Shin Young Ja lies under a thin fleece blanket, nursing a broken back and wracked with survivor's guilt.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1123 GMT (1923 HKT)
Family members of the missing passengers are pinning slim hopes on floundering air pockets.
April 17, 2014 -- Updated 1614 GMT (0014 HKT)
An Iranian mother slaps and then forgives her 17-year old son's murderer in dramatic scenes at the gallows.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
An "extraordinary" video shows what looks like the largest and most dangerous gathering of al Qaeda in years.
April 14, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
Explore each side's case, reconstructed from Pistorius' court affidavit and the prosecution's case during last year's bail hearing.
April 16, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Mentions of the 1989 Tiananmen Square student protests or political reform are still censored in China.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0934 GMT (1734 HKT)
The Hadza are one of the last communities of hunter-gatherers in the world -- but losing their land.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0122 GMT (0922 HKT)
In choosing to change a traditional practice, Francis is being as radical as Jesus was in his own time.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1113 GMT (1913 HKT)
Too weak. Can't handle pressure. Unattractive to sponsors. Susie Wolff has heard it all.
April 19, 2014 -- Updated 0356 GMT (1156 HKT)
Browse through images you don't always see on news reports from CNN teams around the world.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 1230 GMT (2030 HKT)
It's like finding a needle in a universe-wide haystack. Researchers have located a planet roughly the size of Earth that could be habitable.
April 18, 2014 -- Updated 0940 GMT (1740 HKT)
Dubai, long champion of all things biggest, longest and most expensive, will soon have some competition from a neighboring country.
ADVERTISEMENT