Khmer Rouge genocide trial opens

2011-11-21 09:34
Phnom Penh - Cambodia's UN-backed war crimes court on Monday opened the trial of three top Khmer Rouge leaders more than three decades after the country's brutal "Killing Fields" era.

Judge Nil Nonn said the court "declares opened the substantive hearing" in the case against "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, ex-head of state Khieu Samphan and former foreign minister Ieng Sary.

The regime's three most senior surviving members deny charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity over the deaths of up to two million people during the communist movement's 1975-1979 reign of terror.

"It's a major milestone that finally this trial has started," said court spokesperson Lars Olsen. "Many people never thought it would happen."

Missing from the courtroom was fourth accused Ieng Thirith - the regime's "First Lady" and the only female leader to be charged by the court - after she was ruled unfit for trial last week because she has dementia.

Judges have ordered her release, but she remains locked up while an appeal by the prosecution is considered, which is expected to take two weeks.

Hundreds of Cambodians, including monks, students and regime survivors, packed the court's public gallery on Monday for the first of four days of opening statements in the landmark case, seen as vital for providing some justice for the still-traumatised nation.

"I feel very happy. I came here because I want to know the story and how it could have happened," said 75-year-old farmer Sao Kuon, who lost 11 relatives under the Khmer Rouge.

Parts of the proceedings will also be broadcast live on television.

The truth

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998, the communist Khmer Rouge wiped out nearly a quarter of the Cambodian population through starvation, overwork and executions in a bid to create an agrarian utopia.

Owing to fears that not all of the accused, who are in their 80s and suffer from varying ailments, will live to see a verdict, the court recently split their complex case into a series of smaller trials.

But during the opening statements the prosecution and the defence will address all of the accusations.

Of the accused, only Khieu Samphan has indicated he will co-operate, telling the court in June that while he was not "fully knowledgeable" about everything that happened, he would help to find "the truth".

Nuon Chea walked out of the June hearing after telling the court he was "not happy". His lawyers say he will make opening remarks on Wednesday, but it is not known whether he will answer questions.

And Ieng Sary, who was frequently the only point of contact between the secretive communist regime and the outside world, told the court last month he does not intend to testify.

The case against the three is the court's second and most important after it sentenced former Khmer Rouge prison chief Duch to 30 years in jail last year for overseeing the deaths of 15 000 people. The case is now under appeal with a verdict expected on February 03.

The new trial comes at a critical time for the perennially cash-strapped tribunal, which has been mired in controversy over its handling of two possible new cases against five lower-ranking cadres that are strongly opposed by the government.

The government has denied interfering but Prime Minister Hun Sen - himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre - has made it clear he wants the court's work to end with case two, even saying last year that more trials were "not allowed".

Read more on:    un  |  hun sen  |  cambodia

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
1 comment
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


3 sports games you have to watch this weekend

Whether it’s date night or a braai with buddies, plan around these three exciting sporting games!

Everyday struggles of naturally skinny guys
And this year's Miss Bumbum title goes to...
How to maintain your mo, bro
Hottie of the day: Colette

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Magical Massinga

Spend 5 nights at the gorgeous Massinga Beach Lodge in Mozambique and only pay for 4 from R13 220 per person sharing. Includes return flights, accommodation, transfers and romantic turndown. Book now! - shop online today

20% off ALL TV Series

Choose from 1000’s of the hottest TV Series . While stocks last. Shop now!

Festive gifts!

Check out our awesome range of festive gifts to make everyone’s wishes come true. Shop now!

Seen something you like in our catalogue?

Find the perfect gift and save up to R5000 – As seen on the catalogue. Hurry and shop now!

Save up to R2200 on electronics! – As seen in the catalogue

Wishing for tech gadgets this festive? Save up to R2100 on hot tech products at While stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 35% off books

Save up to 35% on the latest page-turners. While stocks last. Shop now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25


There is a strong focus on social interaction and connecting with your friends. You may have the need to expand and connect with more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.