[JURIST] The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] on Monday began the initial hearings [materials; agenda, PDF] in the trial of four former leaders of the communist Khmer Rouge regime [JURIST news archive; BBC backgrounder] of the 1970s. The four leaders include Nuon Chea, who was Pol Pot's second-in-command and the group's chief ideologist, former head of state Khieu Samphan, ex-foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, Ieng Thirith [case profiles, PDF], who served as minister for social affairs. The four, each of whom is over 79 years old, are the first top officials to face trial. They are charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture, but have pleaded not guilty to those charges. Three of the four alleged that the proceedings were unfair, indicated they were in poor health and left the courtroom [ABC report] Monday. The court will focus primarily on procedural issues [AP report] at this early stage of the trial, and present evidence and testimony beginning in late August.
The Khmer Rouge have been blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people [PPU backgrounder] from starvation, disease, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979. The UN-backed ECCC was established in 2001 to investigate and try those responsible for the Cambodian genocide that resulted in the deaths of approximately one-third of the Cambodian population. Khieu Samphan has defended [JURIST report] the late Khmer Rouge dictator Pol Pot in his 2007 book, denying that he was responsible for genocide. Nuon Chea was arrested and charged in September 2007 and said that he was never in the position to order the deaths attributed to him, but that he would cooperate with the ECCC [JURIST reports]. Ieng Thirith and Ieng Sary were also arrested and charged in September 2007. The ECCC handed down its first and only conviction [JURIST report] last year against Kaing Guek Eav [TrialWatch profile], better known as "Duch", who was in charge of the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh.