skip navigation

People’s Revolutionary Tribunal Held in Phnom Penh for the Trial of the Genocide Crime of the Pol Pot - Ieng Sary Clique

Court Revolutionary People’s Tribunal, Cambodia
Decision title Judgement of the Revolutionary People’s Tribunal Held in Phnom Penh From 15 to 19 August 1979
Decision date 19 August 1979
  • The Prosecutor
  • Pol Pot alias Saloth Sar
  • Ieng Sary alias Kim Trang
Categories Genocide
Keywords bodily harm, children, enslavement, Forcible transfer, group, national, ethnic, racial, religious, mental harm, Murder, starvation, torture
back to top


From 1975 until 1979, the notorious Khmer Rouge ruled the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea, now Cambodia. The accused, Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under the regime whose conduct resulted in the deaths of some 3 million people, or 40% of the entire population. Supporters of the former regime including soldiers, officials and civil servants, as well as those perceived to be a threat including students, intellectuals, professors, scientists, opposition organisations were brutally exterminated on a massive scale. The entire population of several cities, including the capital Phnom Penh, were forcibly evacuated from their homes, their property was stolen by the state and they were left to die of starvation and disease. Approximately 4 million persons were herded into “commues”, disguised concentration camps in which men, women and children above the age of 10 were put to hard labour. Tens of thousands were brutally tortured by members of the regime, their bodies cut open, subject to electroshock and live surgery. Forced marriages and rape were common place. Children were either put to death in brutal and vicious ways or recruited into armed units to fight. The regime was finally overthrown by Vietnam in January 1979 and the Revolutionary Council established a special tribunal, the Revolutionary People’s Tribunal.

By the present decision, the tribunal convicted Pol Pot and Ieng Sary of genocide and sentenced them to death. Unfortunately, the value of the decision is merely symbolic as the trials were held without the presence of the accused. Pol Pot died in 1998; Ieng Sary is currently on trial before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for genocide. 

back to top

Procedural history

On 15 August 1979, the Revolutionary People’s Tribunal indicted Pol Pot and Ieng Sary on charge of genocide, in violation of Article 2 of Decree Law Nº 1 of 15 July 1979.

Both accused were the subject of subpoenas to appear. In light of their failure to appear and pursuant to Articles 5 and6 of Decree Law Nº 1, the Tribunal decided to hold the trial in absentia

back to top

Legally relevant facts

From 1975 until 1979, the then Democratic Republic of Kampuchea was ruled by the Khmer Rouge, in which the accused Pol Pot was the Prime Minister and Ieng Sary Deputy Prime Minister (pp. 1-2).

The regime divided the population into three categories. Category III, that is persons who co-operated with the former regime, were to be exterminated. Category II, persons who lived in areas formerly controlled by the old regime, were to be purged. Only Category I, persons living in resistance bases, were to be spared, until such time as they too began to resist the oppressive regime (pp. 3-4, 7-8).

The following individuals also came under particular threat: officers, soldiers and civil servants of the former regime as well as their families
(p. 4); students and intellectuals professors, scientists and technicians (pp. 4-6); individuals and organisations believed to be in opposition to the regime (pp. 6-7); religious priests and believers (pp. 8-9); national minorities particularly the Muslims and the Thai (pp. 9-10). 

More than 2 million inhabitants of Phnom Penh were forcible evacuated under the pretext of escaping an expected bombing; any opposition was punished by beating. They were robbed of their possessions by the regime. Tens of thousands died of starvation, disease, exhaustion or at the hands of the regime (pp. 10-11). The same was repeated in other cities (p. 11).

Upon expulsion, many people were herded into disguised concentration camps and forced to work and lige in appaling conditions, leading to massacres (pp. 12-15).

Children were also the subject of the regime: they were forced to hard labour, put to death, eaten or recruited into army units (p. 16).

back to top

Core legal questions

  • Did the afore-mentioned conduct amount to genocide?

back to top

Specific legal rules and provisions

  • Articles 1, 2, 5 and 6 of Decree Law Nº 1 of 15 July 1979.

back to top

Court's holding and analysis

Article 1 of Decree Law Nº 1 defines the crime of genocide as:

“Planned mass killing of innocent people, forced evacuation of the population from cities and villages, concentration of the population and forcing them to work in physically and morally exhausting conditions, abolition of religion, destruction of economic and cultural structures and of family and social relations.”

The Tribunal concluded that the afore-mentioned acts were intended to achieve genocide (p. 21).

The State of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea under the authority of the Khmer Rouge had a policy of carrying out the aforementioned criminal acts. Such a policy was discussed at meetings held by the Khmer Rouge, written down in documents such as resolutions, directives and teaching materials.

The acts were systematically perpetrated throughout Kampuchea in accordance with the policy of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary with the same methods and under close guidance and supervision at various levels (p. 22).

Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were convicted of genocide and sentenced to death (p. 29).

back to top

Further analysis

back to top

Instruments cited

back to top

Additional materials