Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan (Photo: AFP)

Phnom Penh (VNA) - The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on November 16 sentenced two most senior surviving leaders of the country’s former Khmer Rouge regime to life in prison for committing genocide.

Nuon Chea, 92, was the chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and second in command to Pol Pot. Khieu Samphan, 87, was head of state during the brutal regime, which ruled from 1975 to 1979.

Spokesman of the trial chamber of the ECCC Neth Pheaktra told the press on November 16 that the verdicts in Case 002/02, which charged both men with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, were announced with the presence of representatives from the United Nations, the ambodian Government, foreign embassies, and local people.

“The pronouncement of the verdict on Friday is a historical event for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, for Cambodia and for the world, as well as for international justice”, he said.

The hearing for the case lasted 283 days, starting from October 2014, during which 185 individuals testified, he added.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which archives the Khmer Rouge atrocities, said the verdict "affirms the collective humanity of the victims and gives recognition to the horrible suffering that they suffered."

The ECCC is a special Cambodian court which receives international assistance through the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials. It was set up in 2006 to bring to trial senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. In that period, at least 1.7 million Cambodian people are believed to have died from starvation, torture, execution and forced labour.

It has so far spent more than 318 million USD for its activities during 2006-2017, of which Japan contributed 29 percent. The chamber had to cease operation several times due to shortage of capital.-VNA