AFP reports that hundreds of Cambodians, including monks and elderly survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, packed into the courtroom to hear the historic verdict being delivered.
Duch (69), whose full name is Kaing Guek Eav, was originally convicted and sentenced to 30 years in July 2010 for his role in running the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, the BBC explains. Up to 15,000 people are thought to have died at the prison during his time there.
Duch appealed the sentence in March 2011, but on Friday, Reuters says, the Supreme Court Chamber handed down a life sentence, saying that the initial punishment did not "reflect the gravity of the crimes".
“The crimes by Kaing Guek Eav were undoubtedly among the worst in recorded human history. They deserve the highest penalty available,” Reuters reports Kong Srim, the president of the court's highest appeal body, as saying.
AP says that Duch showed no emotion when the decision was read out, but pressed his palms together in a show of respect to the judge.
According to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, at least 1.7 million people, a quarter of Cambodia’s population, died under the Maoist rule of Pol Pot from 1975-1979. Duch is the first senior member of the regime to be sentenced for war crimes.
The three most senior surviving leaders of the regime were put on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in November 2011. Their trial is ongoing, AFP reports. However, unlike Duch, who admitted his role and asked for forgiveness, AP says, the others claim no wrongdoing.