In 1997 the Cambodian Government made a formal request to the UN for international assistance in setting up a tribunal to hear cases against the senior members of the Khmer Rouge allegedly responsible for the worst crimes of the 1975 to 1979 genocide.
The Cambodian National Assembly passed a law to create this court, called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea. After lengthy negotiations, the judges were sworn in in 2006.
The trials have been held in Cambodia, and the Cambodian Government invited international participation in the process both to circumvent any weaknesses in the Cambodian legal system and because of the gravity of the crimes being tried. There have been four cases at the court, and nine defendants.
The commander of S-21, Kaing Guek Eav (Duch) went into hiding in 1979 but was located by journalists in 1999. On 31 July 2007, he was charged with Crimes Against Humanity. He claimed that he was simply obeying higher orders when he supervised the prison and that he would have been killed had he disobeyed.
30 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, 13 years after the tribunal was first proposed and nearly three years after the court was inaugurated, Kaing Guek Eav’s trial began on 17 February 2009. On 26 July 2010, Kaing Guek Eav was found guilty of Crimes Against Humanity and sentenced to 35 years in prison. After an appeal by prosecutors, the Supreme Court Chamber increased his sentence to life imprisonment on 3 February 2012. The decision is final and cannot be appealed.
In 2011, four of the most senior Khmer Rouge officials – Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan began trial for Crimes Against Humanity. Ieng Thirith was found unfit to stand trial and died shortly afterwards. Her husband, Ieng Sary died before judicial proceedings against him were completed. The cases against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were separated into two trials. In the first, both were found guilty on some of the counts they were charged with, and sentenced to life imprisonment. In the second Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan were convicted of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Noun Chea passed away in August 2019.