Nuon Chea

04.05.2016 ( Last modified: 19.04.2018 )
Trial Watch would like to remind its users that any person charged by national or international authorities is presumed innocent until proven guilty.


Nuon Chea, also known as ‘Brother Number Two’, was born on 7 July 1926 in Voat Kor village, Cambodia.

In 1960, Chea was appointed Deputy Secretary of the Kampuchea Communist Party (CPK) and member of the CPK’s Standing Committee. In the role of Deputy Secretary, Chea was CPK’s second in command, as indicated by his nickname ‘Brother Number Two’, and right-hand man of CPK’s leader Pol Pot.
Between 1970 and 1975, Chea served as Vice-President of the High Military Commandment of the People’s Armed Forced for the National Liberation of Kampuchea, and head of the political leadership of the army.

On 9 October 1975, he was designated as member of the CPK’s Permanent Committee, in charge of labour, social welfare, culture, propaganda and formal education.
Between 1976 and 1979, Chea served as President of the Assembly of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea (DRK), and as DRK’s Prime Minister for a short stint between 25 September and 15 October 1976.

From 17 April 1975 to at least 6 January 1979, several killings and episodes of extreme violence were committed throughout the territory of Cambodia against civilians, including members of the Cham and Vietnamese minorities, and enemy soldiers of the defeated Khmer Republic. Notably, a significant portion of the whole Cambodian population was forcibly moved from urban to rural areas and obliged to work in agricultural sites. During this period, nearly two million Cambodians were killed or died from diseases, starvation, execution, or exhaustion from overwork.

Legal Procedure

On 19 November 2007, Chea was placed under provisional detention and charged by the Office of the Co-Investigative Judges (OCIJ) of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for:

  • crimes against humanity of murder, deportation, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, persecution and other inhumane acts;
  • war crimes of willful killing, torture or inhumane treatment, willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health, willfully depriving a prisoner of war or civilian the rights of fair and regular trial, unlawful deportation or unlawful confinement of civilians; and
  • genocide.

All the crimes were allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979 on the territory of the DRK.

On 15 September 2010, he was formally indicted by the OCIJ.

On 22 September 2011, the ECCC’s Trial Chamber decided to severe the case in two parts to expedite the trial.

CASE 002/01

The first sub-trial concerned the forced displacement of the Cambodian population allegedly committed between 1975 and 1978, and war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed against soldiers of the Khmer Republic in the immediate aftermath of the CPK takeover in 1975.

On 23 November 2011, Chea pleaded not-guilty to all the charges against him.

On 7 August 2014, the ECCC’s Trial Chamber found him guilty of participating in a joint criminal enterprise to commit the crimes against humanity of murder, political persecution and other inhumane acts. He was also found guilty of having organised, ordered, encouraged and taken part in extermination or other inhumane acts and political persecution. He was sentenced to life imprisonment.

On 23 November 2016, the verdict was substantially confirmed by the ECCC’s Supreme Court Chamber.


CASE 002/02

On 17 October 2014, the second sub-trial commenced focusing on the remaining charges of:

  • genocide by killing members of the groups of Vietnamese and Cham;
  • crimes against humanity of murder, deportation, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, persecution and other inhumane acts committed in worksites and various security centres throughout Cambodia;
  • war crimes of wilful killing, and wilfully depriving a prisoner of war or a civilian the rights of fair regular trial committed in security centres throughout Cambodia.

On 23 June 2017, the defendant’s closing statements concluded the proceedings and the Trial Chamber withdrew for deliberation.

At the beginning of 2018, Chea was found fit to stand trial for the purposes of the delivery of his judgment, despite his age and his numerous health complications.

The judgment is expected to be delivered in June 2018.


Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC):

On 13 May 2003, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution approving a proposed agreement reached between the UN and Cambodia concerning the prosecution of those holding major responsibility for the crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 (A/RES/57/228/B). The agreement provided for the setting up of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), integrated into the existing judicial system, and in which International judges would also preside. The court would be funded by voluntary contributions.

On 4 October 2004, the Cambodian Nation Assembly ratified this treaty. On 27 October 2004, the treaty was proclaimed into law by the King. The ECCC has jurisdiction with respect to crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the violations of the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property.

In 8 May 2006, 17 Cambodian and 12 international judges to the ECCC were appointed by royal decree. And in 7 July 2006 the ECCC announced the establishment of a defenders council staffs by foreign lawyers to ensure adequate defence.

On 18 July 2007, the Co-prosecutors of the ECCC announced that they had transferred to the ECCC judges the files of five suspects, expected to be tried notably for genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, homicide, torture and religious persecution. The investigating judges (a foreign and a Cambodian judge) were then to examine the cases and decide whether and which of the suspects would be tried by the ECCC.

On 31 July 2007, Guek Eav Kaing, “Duch” became the first suspect to be arrested and detained by the ECCC and on 26 July 2010, the Trial Chamber found him guilty of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, sentencing him to 35 years of imprisonment. On 16 September 2010 the ECCC indicted Thirith Ieng, Sary Ieng, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea on charges of genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and murder.

Fact Sheet
Name: Nuon Chea
Nationality: Cambodia
Context: Cambodia
Charges: genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity
Status: on trial
Judgement Place: Cambodia
Particulars: case 002/01: arrested on 19 November 2007; indicted by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on 15 September 2010; convicted and sentenced by the ECCC’s Trial Chamber on 7 August 2014; conviction and sentence upheld by the ECCC’s Appeal Chamber on 23 November 2016. Case 002/02: trial commenced on 17 October 2014; trial concluded on 23 June 2017.