Genocide Trial Begins for Former Khmer Rouge Leaders

Nuon Chea and Kieu Samphan

Kieu Samphan (left) and Nuon Chea

Today, the last two surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime, Khieu Samphan, the former head of state of Cambodia, and Nuon Chea, former president of the national assembly under Pol Pot’s regime, begin their second trial at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Both are already on trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity at the ECCC.

The second trial includes a charge of genocide related to killings of Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities. The charges are based on factual allegations concerning four security centres, three worksites and one group of adjacent cooperatives.

The cases are being tried separately to accelerate proceedings, because the defendants are elderly.

The second trial is a continuation of the first one. A verdict in the first case is expected on 7 August. Prosecutors are seeking life sentences for the two accused.

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia for four years, from 1975 to 1979. Up to two million people are thought to have died of starvation, overwork or by execution under the brutal Maoist regime.

Leader Pol Pot died in 1997 and only one senior official – former prison chief Duch – has been convicted and jailed for crimes committed by the regime.

Two other leaders were to be tried, but Ieng Sary – the former foreign minister – passed away last year and his wife, former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, was ruled unfit to stand trial.

The first trial has largely focused on crimes committed as the urban population was forcibly moved into rural labour camps.

The second trial will address the roles of Nuon Chea, 88, and Khieu Samphan, 83, in the killings of tens – possibly hundreds – of thousands of people from Cambodia’s ethnic minority groups.

This second trial is expected to continue possibly until 2016.