Accessibility links

Breaking News

Genocide Trial Begins for Former Khmer Rouge Leaders

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Nuon Chea, center, who was the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, sits in the court room during a hearing at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal, in Phnom Penh,

A U.N.-backed tribunal in Cambodia has begun hearing the genocide case against two aging former Khmer Rouge leaders.

Former head of state Khieu Samphan and chief ideologue Nuon Chea have already received life sentences from the court for their roles in the mass emptying of Phnom Penh following the Khmer Rouge takeover. They have appealed that decision.

The two defendants are now facing charges for a wide range of crimes, including Khmer Rouge actions at detention centers and work camps, policies including forced marriage, and the alleged genocide of Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese.

In an opening statement Friday, prosecutor Chea Leang vowed to bring justice for the victims of those atrocities, saying they were the most serious crimes for which Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea have been indicted.

The trial has been split into two parts due to concerns about the slow pace of the proceedings and the advanced age of the defendants, who are both in their 80s.

As many as two million Cambodians died from starvation, overwork and executions during the four-year rule of the Khmer Rouge, which attempted to create an agrarian communist utopia.

Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are the most senior leaders to be convicted by the tribunal, which began operations in 2006 and has since experienced funding issues, corruption and other scandals.

Another Khmer Rouge leader who was originally part of the current case, former foreign secretary Ieng Sary, died last year at age 87. His wife, Ieng Thirith, was later found mentally unfit for trial and released.

In 2010, the tribunal convicted and sentenced to life in prison former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as "Duch," for his role in killing more than 14,000 while running the Tuol Sleng center in Phnom Penh.

The group's leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.