Nuon Chea (7 July 1926 – 4 August 2019), was a Cambodian politician who was the chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge. He also briefly served as acting Prime Minister of Democratic Kampuchea.
He was commonly known as "Brother Number Two", as he was second-in-command to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, General Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea during the Cambodian Genocide of 1975–1979. In 2014, Nuon Chea received a life sentence for crimes against humanity, alongside another top-tier Khmer Rouge leader, Khieu Samphan, and a further trial convicted him of the crime of genocide in 2018.
As the recently proclaimed state legislature, the Kampuchean People's Representative Assembly held its first plenary session during 11–13 April 1976, Chea was elected president of its Standing Committee. He briefly held office as acting prime minister when Pol Pot resigned for one month, citing health reasons.
Nuon Chea was forced to abandon his position as president of the Assembly, along with all others as the Vietnamese captured Phnom Penh in January 1979. According to prison commander Kang Kek Iew (more commonly known as Duch), who described Chea as "the principal man for the killings," Chea "ordered me to kill all the remaining prisoners" at Tuol Sleng shortly before the regime's ouster; Chea was reportedly "furious" that Duch failed to destroy Tuol Sleng's extensive archives documenting torture and mass murder at the prison before the Vietnamese took the site.
In December 1998, Chea surrendered as part of the last remnants of Khmer Rouge resistance which was based in Pailin near the Thailand border. The government under Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former member of the Khmer Rouge, agreed to forsake attempts to prosecute Chea, a decision that was condemned by Western nations.
On 19 September 2007, 81 year old Chea was arrested at his home in Pailin and flown to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Phnom Penh, which charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was held continuously in detention after his arrest. In February 2008, Chea told the court that his case should be handled according to international standards. He argued that the court should delay proceedings because his Dutch lawyer, Michiel Pestman, had not yet arrived.
In May 2013, Chea told the court and the victims' families, "I feel remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally, whether or not I had known about it or not known about it." On 7 August 2014, the court convicted Chea of crimes against humanity and sentenced him to imprisonment for the remainder of his life. His lawyer immediately announced that Chea would appeal against his conviction. Chea faced a separate trial for the crime of genocide in the same court. The court found him and Khieu Samphan guilty of genocide against the Vietnamese people and the Chams on 16 November 2018.
In his closing brief before the court, numbering some 500 pages, Chea "blamed Vietnamese agents for virtually everything that went wrong during Khmer Rouge rule." He also denied responsibility for mass killings, but this was contradicted by detailed documentation left behind by the Khmer Rouge regime itself, including bizarre "confessions" extracted under torture at Tuol Sleng and photographs of purge victims, as well as a recording made by a Cambodian journalist prior to Chea's 2007 arrest in which Chea admitted: "Believe me, if these traitors were alive, the Khmers as a people would have been finished. ... If we had shown mercy to these people, the nation would have been lost."