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Cambodia: Genocide Tribunal Begins Hearings in New Trial

(June 29, 2011) The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) opened hearings on June 27, 2011, in the trial of four high-ranking leaders of the country's late 1970s Khmer Rouge regime. All of the former communist officials are now over 79 years old. Nuon Chea was second in command to ruler Pol Pot and was the chief ideologist; Khieu Samphan had been the head of state; Ieng Sary was the former Foreign Minister; and Sary's wife, Ieng Thirith, had been the Minister for Social Affairs. The tribunal's “first and only conviction,” against Kaing Guek Eav (known as “Duch”), former head of Phnom Penh's notorious S-21 prison, was rendered in 2010. (Maureen Cosgrove, Cambodia Genocide Tribunal Begins Trial of Former Khmer Rouge Leaders, PAPER CHASE NEWSBURST (June 27, 2011); Case 002 Initial Hearing 27th -30th June 2011, ECCC website(last visited June 28, 2011).)

The three men and one woman are the first high-level officials to go on trial, “charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture,” to which they have pleaded not guilty. (Cosgrove, supra.) The Trial Chamber judges include three Cambodian judges (one of whom is the President of the Trial Chamber), a New Zealand judge, and a French judge. (ECCC website, supra.) At this stage of the trial of the four former leaders, collectively referred to as Case 002, the court will focus chiefly on procedural matters; the presentation of evidence and testimony is expected to begin in August or September. Pol Pot died in 1998 and escaped being brought to trial. (Cosgrove, supra; Sopheng Cheang, Cambodian Tribunal Tries Khmer Rouge Leaders, AP (June 27, 2011).)

According to an Associated Press news report, “[t]his trial may be the tribunal's last, even though preliminary cases have been prepared against at least five more suspects,” partly because the tribunal “has been mired in controversy over what critics charge is an effort by the co-investigating judges — from Cambodia and Germany — to scuttle further prosecutions,” partly due to budgetary pressures, and partly because current Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, “presumably wary that political allies who once served with the Khmer Rouge — as he himself did – could face prosecution, has declared he simply won't allow more trials.” (Sopheng Cheang, supra.)