News / Asia

Former Khmer Rouge Leaders Ask Court to Release Them

Nuon Chea, former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, looks on during a joint hearing with other top Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan, former head of state, and Ieng Thirith, former social affairs minister, at the court hall of the U.N
Nuon Chea, former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, looks on during a joint hearing with other top Khmer Rouge leaders, Khieu Samphan, former head of state, and Ieng Thirith, former social affairs minister, at the court hall of the U.N
Robert Carmichael

In Cambodia, defense lawyers for three former Khmer Rouge leaders - set to stand trial later this year - called on the international war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh to release them.

Monday marked the first time that the three former Khmer Rouge leaders have appeared together at the international war crimes tribunal.

Their lawyers asked the court to release them ahead of their trial, which is expected to start later this year.

They told the court their elderly clients had been in pre-trial detention for longer than the tribunal’s rules permitted.

The three accused in court were Nuon Chea, the movement’s chief ideologue who was known as Brother Number Two; Khieu Samphan, who was the movement’s head of state; and Ieng Thirith, the former social affairs minister.

The fourth defendant, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, did not appeal the tribunal’s recent ruling that all four must remain in custody ahead of their trial.

International prosecutor Andrew Cayley said Monday that Nuon Chea’s request for release ran counter to international jurisprudence.

He said among other things, Nuon Chea should remain in custody because he had shown himself capable of intimidating those below him in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy.

At least one of those people is scheduled to testify against Nuon Chea, and Cayley said other witnesses were also fearful of testifying. "Your honors, given the accused’s position within Democratic Kampuchea, he could put pressure on witnesses. Especially those under his authority, and indeed there has been some evidence of that already," Cayley stated.

Prosecutors also warned that the defendants had access to the names of witnesses.

The court is expected to rule on the request for release within 30 days.

Earlier this month the four were charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes under Cambodian law. They deny the charges.

As many as 2.2 million people died under the Khmer Rouge movement’s rule of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

The movement’s leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.

Last year the tribunal sentenced the movement’s former security chief, Comrade Duch, to 30 years. Both the prosecution and Duch’s lawyers have appealed the verdict, which will be heard in late March.

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