The two most senior surviving leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge were sentenced today to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed some three and a half decades ago. The UN-backed tribunal handed what the AP terms "historic verdicts" to Khieu Samphan, the regime's former head of state, and Nuon Chea, who was second only to Pol Pot in the regime. Head judge Nin Nonn said both men were guilty of "extermination encompassing murder" along with "other inhumane acts" including "forced transfer." As the Week points out, the sentences may be short ones: The men are 83 and 88 years old, respectively. To wit, though the two were asked to stand as their verdicts were read, Nuon Chea was permitted to stay seated in his wheelchair.
The New York Times notes that the case, which started in 2011, covered just a "narrow sliver" of what happened under the Khmer Rouge's rule from 1975 to 1979, during which roughly 1.7 million people, or almost 25% of the population, died: In what was touted as a move designed to hasten the arrival at a verdict, the case against the men was broken into stages, with this first one covering only the forced evacuations of urban areas—part of the regime's failed effort to create an agrarian utopia—and one site that saw mass executions. Prosecutors and victims have aired displeasure at which crimes were chosen to be covered first; the men now face another likely-years-long trial that could begin as soon as next month, on charges of genocide. The tribunal has spent more than $200 million since its 2006 founding, but has convicted only one other Khmer Rouge member, in 2010. (Read more Khmer Rouge stories.)