Former leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime are facing trial for crimes of genocide committed in the country in the 1970s.
The two former leaders, 88-year-old Nuon Chea and 83-year-old Khieu Samphan, have already received sentences of life in prison in August for their role in the mass evacuations of people from cities and into rural slave labour. Their sentences are currently under appeal.
The defendants are now facing a second trial where they are charged with a broader range of crimes against humanity.
“Today marks the start of the evidence hearing in the second trial against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan where they face additional charges of genocide, crime against humanity and war crimes,” said the court legal affairs officer Lars Orson. “Today the co-prosecutors will give a brief opening statement to outline the case that they are going to present against the two accused and then the accused will have the chance to respond briefly.”
Former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea sits before a 2011 tribunal for crimes against humanity
The Khmer Rouge leaders are accused of participating in the action of the regime led by dictator Pol Pot, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
The government of the time, the Communist Party of Kampuchea, attempted to enact a policy of social engineering in which it forced millions into slave labour in order to achieve an agrarian revolution.
The regime forcefully relocated Cambodia’s entire populace away from urban centres and into labour camps, where torture, mass execution of dissenters and starvation took place. An estimated quarter of the country’s population died as a result.
Photos the Khmer Rouge took of their victims on display in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum
“Of all the crimes in Democratic Kampuchea, there were none graver than the relentless and systematic effort of the senior Khmer Rouge leaders to identify and smash those they feared could one day oppose them,” said Chea Leang, one of the trial’s prosecutors.
Anne Heindel, the author of a book about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, told the Associated Press that “quintessential Khmer Rouge crimes have yet to be addressed, including the cooperatives and massive work sites where hundreds of thousands of people died of overwork, starvation, and targeted killing. These are crimes that defined the experience of many survivors and still traumatise them today.”