Nuon Chea, who was given another life sentence on Friday, was known as “Brother Number Two” in the Khmer Rouge and was second in command after Pol Pot during the genocidal regime’s rule from 1975 to 1979.
Like many Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea was not the name he was given at birth. Born at Voat Kor in Battambang province on July 7, 1926, his original name was Lau Kim Korn. Later in life he used the names Long Bunruot and the Thai name Rungloet Laodi when he studied in Bangkok.
He was the chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge – making him directly responsible for many of the disastrous policies that resulted in the deaths of as many as three million people.
He served as the prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea, the name the Khmer Rouge used for Cambodia, and was the country’s 31st prime minister.
Friday’s sentence was not his first conviction for the atrocities he oversaw as a senior leader of the Khmer Rouge. On August 7, 2014, Nuon Chea received a life sentence for crimes against humanity, along with Khieu Samphan, the other senior Khmer Rouge leader sentenced on Friday.
Unlike Khieu Samphan and many other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, Nuon Chea was not educated in France, although he does speak French.
His education started in a local school when he was seven, and he went on to be multi-lingual, speaking Thai, French and Khmer.
In the 1940s, he studied at the prestigious Thammasat University in Bangkok and worked part-time for the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He started his political activities with the Communist Party of Siam in Bangkok.
In September 1960, he was elected Deputy General Secretary of the Workers Party of Kampuchea, which was later renamed the Communist Party of Kampuchea. This party eventually became known as Democratic Kampuchea under the Khmer Rouge.
On September 19, 2007, the then 81-year-old was arrested at his home in Pailin near the Thai border and flown to Phnom Penh, where he was charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Since his arrest, he has been held in detention in the cells of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), commonly known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.
In his days as Brother Number Two, people who ran afoul the regime were sent to detention centers such as Tuol Sleng, where they were tortured until they confessed to crimes they mostly had no knowledge of and were then executed.
Like Khieu Samphan, who claimed to have no knowledge of mass killings when he was sentenced on earlier charges in June last year, Nuon Chea also claimed to be unaware of the mass killings being carried out, a claim that was debunked during court proceedings.
“Through this trial it has been shown clearly that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations,” he said.
“I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to victims and the Cambodian people who suffered during the Democratic Kampuchea (Khmer Rouge) regime,” Nuon Chea added.
Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan have spent their time in detention in air-conditioned cells and dined on three good meals a day, an irony noted by many survivors and relatives of their victims who were afforded no such luxuries.