Jump to page content

Cambodia: Khmer Rouge trial under way

last updated Jun 28, 2011

A trial against four former high-profile members of the Khmer Rouge has started in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh on 27 June 2011 accusing the defendants of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The case will be heard before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a war crimes tribunal established by the United Nations and Cambodia in 2003. The defendants are Nuon Chea (also referred to as “Brother Number Two” since he was second in authority to Pol Pot), Khieu Sampan, Ieng Sary and his wife Thirith. The trial is seen as a major chance for the country to come to terms with its past.

Khieu Samphan at a public hearing before the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 3 July 2009
Khieu Samphan at a public hearing before the Pre-Trial Chamber in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on 3 July 2009; Source: Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

However, the trial is overshadowed by the Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former commander of the Khmer Rouge, who has allowed the trial to start but at the same time ruled out the prosecution of five other alleged war criminals in order to have more evidence found that could be used against the ruling elite. It is expected that the court will follow his instructions and the Open Society Foundations, which is monitoring the court, has already criticized the court for deliberately closing down the five other cases without any examination of the evidence. The UN received criticism by human rights groups for agreeing to Hun Sen’s conditions and defending the decision of the judges.

So far, the special court has only held one trial in which it sentenced Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch to 35 years in prison for war crimes and crimes against humanity in his position as head of the detention centre S-21.

The Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975 and established a military rule under which millions of people were forced into the countryside in an attempt to introduce a Maoist transformation program. They abolished money, free markets, private property, foreign clothes and religious practices. The people were deprived of their basic rights; hundreds of thousands were detained, tortured and killed. Especially intellectuals, city residents and minorities such as Vietnamese, Chinese and Muslim Cham members were targeted by the Khmer Rouge. By the end of their rule in 1979, after Vietnamese forces seized Phnom Penh, as many as two million people were killed by Khmer Rouge forces or died as a result of disease, starvation or forced labour.

Time: At Opening of Cambodia War Crimes Trial, Anger, Doubt and Suspicion Linger

HRW: Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Trial is Justice Delayed

Guardian: Cambodia: Burying the past

Cambodia Tribunal Monitor

Cambodia country profile