Close to two million people were killed during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, a generation lost in a country where the word happiness was eradicated from the dictionary. Onboard of a bus, fifty survivors, many of them civil parties at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, traveled from different provinces throughout the country to recover a small part of what was murdered by Pol Pot and his “brothers”.On 7 August 2014, Cambodia's UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal sentenced two former Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea, also known as "Brother Number Two", and Khieu Samphan, former head of State, to life in prison after being convicted on charges of crimes against humanity. Arrested in 2009, the two Khmer Rouge leaders were charged with crimes against humanity and genocide. The first trial in Case 002, known as Case 002/01, which began on 21 November 2011 and, after 20 months of evidentiary hearings, concluded in late October 2013, focused on charges of crimes against humanity in relation to forced population movements and the execution of Khmer Republic soldiers at Tuol Po Chrey in Pursat Province, as well as the two defendants' role in developing Khmer Rouge regime policies.
In April 1975, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, also known as the Khmer Rouge, seized power in Cambodia, forcibly relocating the population to work in labor camps around the country and imprisoning an increasing number of people. Up until the regime's overthrow in January 1979, the policies that were put in place resulted in the creation of a state defined by repression and massacres. Close to two million people lost their lives, due to forced labor, starvation, torture and executions.
Since then, many of the Khmer Rouge leaders, including Pol Pot, have escaped judgment, dying of old age before they were ever called to be judged. Yesterday, 35 years after Cambodia was returned to the Cambodians, two of the former Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, were given life sentences for crimes against humanity by a United Nations-backed tribunal that has taken too long to give back a bit of peace to those who lost family during the most horrific period in the history of Cambodia.
As one of the survivors said after the pronouncement of the life sentence, happiness is too big of a word to describe what this sentence has finally brought to Cambodia and for those who have been searching for justice since 1979.
“I am not happy. Nothing will bring my family back. But now everyone knows that they were murdered by the Khmer Rouge. Many of the leaders are still there, others have died without being accused. But today finally we have that bit of justice that we have been fighting for since the beginning”.
Photography: ©Omar Havana / Getty Images. All Rights Reserved