Nuon Chea (Lao Kim Lorn), born 7 July 1926, Voat Kor village, Battambang province, to a corn farmer and a seamstress, Nuon Chea was second in command to Pol Pot. He studied law at Bangkok’s prestigious Thammasat University, where he became a member of the Thai Communist Party. Appointed Deputy Secretary of the CPK in 1960, he retained this position and his membership in the CPK’s Standing Committee throughout the period of Democratic Kampuchea.
He remained with the Khmer Rouge until reaching a deal with the Cambodian government in December 1998 that allowed him to live near the Thai border. Serving as chief ideologist, he is believed to have played an integral part in shaping the Maoist regime’s radical thinking.
After the Khmer Rouge fell, he moved with its remaining fighters to strongholds in north-west Cambodia until in 1998 he was granted a pardon by Prime Minister Hun Sen as part of a peace deal.
Position in Democratic Kampuchea
Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, member of the Standing Committee and Central Committee of Communist Party of Kampuchea, Chairman of the Democratic Kampuchea People’s Assembly.
According to the Closing Order, Nuon Chea was allegedly also a member of the Military Committee of the Central Committee, however he disputes that he was had been a member of said committee.
Nuon Chea Crimes Against Humanity Case
The Trial Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia convened to present their Judgment in Case 002/01 – the first phase in case 002, the trial of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Both defendants, the last living senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge competent to stand trial, were present in court. The public gallery was at capacity, filled primarily by members of the public as well as large numbers of representatives from domestic and foreign media, Cambodian government officials, UN representatives, and foreign dignitaries. All were present to hear the Court’s decision on the guilt of the accused on charges of crimes against humanity.
The public gallery at the ECCC is separated from the courtroom by a large bank of windowpanes framed by traditionally carved wood paneling. When court is not in open session white curtains block the view into the courtroom. At 8:55 AM these curtains were drawn back to reveal the parties to the case, who had already taken their seats in the courtroom. Khieu Samphan chatted with members of his defense team while Nuon Chea sat still and expressionless; his eyes were concealed by the large sunglasses he often wears when in court.
Cambodian citizens of all ages were in the gallery, but the vast majority were old enough to have lived through the Khmer Rouge era. Former International Co-Lawyer for the Civil Parties, Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort, who left her position in May, was in attendance. Also present in the public gallery was Sok An, the First Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia and his government’s liaison to the ECCC; David Scheffer, The UN Secretary-General’s Special Expert on United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials; Stephen Mathias, the UN Secretary General for Legal Affairs; and Stephen Rapp, US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes, among many other ambassadors and representatives of foreign governments. At 9:05 AM all stood as the judges of the Trial Chamber entered the courtroom.
President Nil Nonn announced the purpose of the hearing: to issue a judgment in Case 002/01. After verifying that all parties were present, he ordered courtroom security officers to escort the defendants to the dock. Khieu Samphan walked slowly to the dock and took his seat there. Nuon Chea, already sitting in a wheelchair, was then pushed into position. The President then stated that a summary of the judgment would be read. At approximately 9:12 AM his reading of the judgment summary commenced.
Nuon Chea rose through the Party to have primary responsibility for both propaganda and education in the CPK, a role in which he disseminated and advocated for the policies of the Khmer Rouge. The Chamber also explained that his long involvement with the party allowed him to have oversight of many party activities that he was not formally in charge of. Despite finding insufficient evidence that Nuon Chea was a member of the CPK’s Military Committee, the Chamber stated that “within the Standing Committee, Nuon Chea, along with Pol Pot, exercised the ultimate decision-making power of the Party” and that he was involved with the overall administration of Democratic Kampuchea, including security and military matters.
Nuon Chea also known as ‘Brother Number Two’, was indicted and sent to trial for crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and genocide; offences which are defined and punishable under Articles 4,5, 6, 29 (New) and 39 (New) of the Law on the Establishment of the Extraordinary Chambers as amended on 27 October 2004.
The charges against Nuon Chea have been separated (severed) into two trials (Case 002/01 and Case 002/02).
The initial hearing in Case 002/01 was held from 27-30 June 2011, the substantive part of the trial commenced with opening statements on 21 November 2011, and ended with final statements on 31 October 2013.The trial judgment was pronounced on 7 August 2014.
Nuon Chea was found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment. On 23 November 2016, the Supreme Court Chamber quashed part of the convictions but affirmed life imprisonment for Nuon Chea in Case 002/01.
Trial hearings in Case 002/02 commenced on 17 October 2014. The presentation of evidence started on 8 January 2015 and concluded on 11 January 2017.
Closing statements were held from 13 -23 June 2017. The trial judgment in Case 002/02 is expected in the second quarter of 2018.
On 16 November 2018, the Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) convicted NUON Chea of genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Nuon Chea denied the charges against him, saying as the trial ended that he never ordered Khmer Rouge cadres “to mistreat or kill people, to deprive them of food or commit any genocide”.
Responding to testimony from relatives of those who died, he said: “As a leader, I must take responsibility for the damage, the danger to my nation.”
“I feel remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally, whether or not I had known about it or not known about it.”
Quick Facts Nuon Chea
1926 – Born in Battambang, western Cambodia, then under French colonial rule. Thailand took control of the province together with Siem Reap and Serei Sophorn in 1941, until 1946.
1942 – At age 16, travels to Bangkok to complete secondary education, lives as a temple boy at Wat Benjamabopit.
1944 – Enrolls at Thammasat University under the name Runglert Laodi, shortly thereafter, joins the Youth for Democracy Movement of Thailand, under the Community Party of Thailand (CPT).
1945 – Quits Thammasat to work for the Comptroller General Department, Finance Ministry in Bangkok.
1947 – Ordains for one season at Wat Samrong, Chachoengsao province (east of Bangkok), then returns to Bangkok, wants to join the Foreign Ministry. However, denied a professional position and instead given the same level clerical job as he held at the Finance Ministry, decides to quit working after one month, to join the fledging pro-democracy student movement in Thailand and the CPT.
1950 – Returns to Cambodia to enlist in the anti-French movement, “transfers” from CPT to the Indochinese Community Party (ICP), assigned the responsibility for ideological training.
1954 – Goes to Vietnam for training.
1960 – The Cambodian Communist Party (CPK) is set up, Nuon Chea is appointed deputy secretary of CPK Central Committee and a member of CPK Standing Committee, the most senior bodies responsible for Party policy, he holds those posts continuously thereafter.
1975 – CPK, called “Khmer Rouge” by then Prince Norodom Sihanouk since the 1960s, wins a five-year civil war and establishes Democratic Kampuchea regime in Phnom Penh.
1975-79 – Nearly two million people died brutal deaths under Democratic Kampuchea policy to purify Cambodia and re-create past Khmer glories. Specifically, Nuon Chea is alleged to have known and approved the systematic torture and execution of 14,000 men, women, and children at the notorious Security Office 21 (S-21) also known as Tuol Sleng prison for Khmer Rouge cadres in Phnom Penh, among other deeds.
1979 – Vietnamese forces invade Cambodia, topple Democratic Kampuchea regime, and establish the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) in Phnom Penh.
1979-80 – Democratic Kampuchea revived with ASEAN, Chinese, UN and Western help. A tri-partite coalition resistance against the Vietnamese forces and “puppet regime” in Phnom Penh is formed and operates. Nuon Chea remains active in the movement.
1991 – Cambodian factions sign peace accords ending civil war, the United Nations sent then world’s largest UN mission to host general elections.
1993 – UN-sponsored elections held, boycotted by Khmer Rouge who return to guerrilla fighting.
1996 – King Norodom Sihanouk signs an amnesty for former Democratic Kampuchea foreign minister Ieng Sary, after he and 10,000 guerrillas move over to the government.
1997 – Co-Prime Ministers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh request help from the United Nations for a Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
1998 – Pol Pot dies in Anglong Veng on the Thai-Cambodian border, He had faced a one-day “trial” held 25 July, 1997 held by his own cadres who accused him of assassinating his own defense minister, Son Sen and his family. Nuon Chea and Khien Samphan defect to the government, given virtual amnesty, and apologize at a press conference for what happened between 1975-1979. After a tour of Cambodia, Nuon Chea settles in Pailin, former stronghold of the Khmer Rouge.
- Nuon Chea Biogrphy and Profile