A United Nations-backed Cambodian court has upheld the life sentences given to two Khmer Rouge leaders on Wednesday (23 November). The two former senior cadres of Khmer Rouge – Nuon Chea (90) and Khieu Samphan (85) – were sentenced after they were found guilty of crimes against humanity.

Both the senior leaders were held to account over crimes committed between 1975 and 1979, which claimed the lives of up to two million Cambodians.

The Supreme Court ruled that Chea, who was deputy of former prime minister Pol Pot at that time, and Samphan, who was the regime's head of state, were guilty of crimes against humanity, murder, persecution on political grounds and other inhumane acts over the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh after the fall of the city in 1975.

Judge Kong Srim said in a lengthy ruling that the Supreme Court Chamber "affirms the sentence of life imprisonment imposed by the trial chamber on both Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. The Supreme Court orders that Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan remain in custody".

The UN Secretary-General's envoy to the tribunal, David Scheffer, said that the judgment sent a very strong message to leaders around the world. "What happened today in this courtroom ultimately can reach your domain," Scheffer said, referring to Islamic State in Syria, among others.

"I will just say in closing that perhaps the leadership of North Korea should take particular note of what occurred here today. ...International justice isn't backing down, it is actually forging ahead," he added, citing a 2014 UN report, which referred to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in connection with suspected human rights abuses.

The Wednesday's verdict was also welcomed by the Cambodian government.

"We express our hope that this trial and today's delivery of the final judgment brings some relief for your pain and suffering," Sok An, deputy prime minister of the country, said, while, addressing survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime.