- 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.