Court to start genocide trial of top Khmer Rouge leaders
PHNOM PENH - Agence France-Presse
This handout photo taken and released by the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) shows the courtroom during the hearing of two former Khmer Rouge leaders at ECCC in Phnom Penh on July 30. AFP PhotoCambodia's U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge court was July 30 set to begin a second trial of two former regime leaders on charges including genocide of Vietnamese people and ethnic Muslims, forced marriages and rape.
The complex case of the regime's two most senior surviving leaders has been split into a series of smaller trials, initially focusing on the forced evacuation of people into rural labour camps and related crimes against humanity.
The first trial against "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 88, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, was completed late last year, with the verdict - and possible sentences - set to be delivered on August 7.
At the opening hearing of the second trial, which focuses on genocide and other crimes against humanity, judges will discuss issues such as reparations for victims. "The second trial is equally important as the first, and more victims and witnesses will have the opportunity to testify about their experiences and suffering during the Khmer Rouge regime, on a broader range of criminal allegations," court spokesman Lars Olsen told AFP.
The mass killings of an estimated 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese form the basis of the genocide charges against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
Before these charges were filed, the treatment of the minority Muslim group and Vietnamese community was rarely discussed.
The pair also face a string of other charges for the deaths of up to two million people through starvation, overwork or execution during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.
Trial may last two years
Most of these deaths do not fall under the charge of genocide, which is defined by the United Nations as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."
It is not known how long the second trial will last, but Olsen estimated it may go on until 2016 with hearings covering crimes committed at Khmer Rouge labour camps and prisons including the notorious Tuol Sleng, also known as S-21.
"This trial is very important for me as a victim who lost both parents in Tuol Sleng," said 45-year-old Norng Chan Phal, one of just a handful of survivors from the prison. "Those criminals who committed genocide and killed their own people must be punished seriously."
Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the Khmer Rouge dismantled Cambodian society in a bid to create an agrarian utopia. The trial will also provide the first forum for justice for tens of thousands of husbands and wives forced to marry, often in mass ceremonies, as part of a Khmer Rouge plan to boost the population.
The rape charges refer to rape within the forced marriages. In its historic debut trial, the court in 2010 sentenced former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav to 30 years in prison - later increased to life on appeal - for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people.
But observers and victims have raised concerns that the ageing Khmer Rouge leaders may not survive to see a verdict. Former regime foreign minister Ieng Sary died aged 87 last year while on trial for war crimes and genocide, while his wife was ruled unfit to stand trial in September 2012 for medical reasons.