Second Trial Against Khmer Rouge Leaders Begins

The second trial against aging Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, which for the first time includes charges of genocide, was adjourned Friday when the pair announced a boycott of proceedings and their lawyers walked out of the courtroom.

Nuon Chea, 88, Pol Pot’s second in command, and Khieu Samphan, 83, the regime’s former head of state, are facing charges over the mass killings of Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese as well as other crimes against humanity including forced marriage and rape, internal purges of Khmer Rouge cadres and slave labor at work cooperatives.

In August, the former Khmer Rouge leaders were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment in the first part of the case against them, which examined the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh and the execution of soldiers loyal to Lon Nol.

Addressing the judges and his “beloved fellow Cambodians,” Nuon Chea on Friday dismissed the guilty verdict against him as “a child’s fairytale” and called for the removal of four judges he says are biased for failing to take into account the role Vietnamese expansionism played in the deaths of Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Khieu Samphan told judges that his defense team would be unable to properly prepare for his appeal of the first phase of Case 002 if they had to simultaneously represent him in the second phase.

“I would like to request the court that it be put on the record very clearly that every day that I have to be present in the courtroom during the hearing, it is under duress,” he said.

Both accused have already filed requests with the court for the dismissal of the judges who found them guilty in the first mini-trial in Case 002 and are in the process of appealing their sentences.

Proceedings in the second phase of the trial are likely to remain suspended until the defense teams agree to participate, according to tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

“In reality, the trial chamber cannot continue because there is no presence of the lawyers,” he said, adding that the defense teams would be able to raise their concerns at a trial management meeting on Tuesday.

Outlining the case against the accused Friday morning, national co-prosecutor Chea Leang said the majority of the crimes suffered by victims of the Khmer Rouge had yet to be addressed by the tribunal.

“An endless and ever-escalating cycle of violence against the Cambodian people which left a land of mass graves and missing relatives: this was the truly heinous legacy of the CPK [Communist Party of Kampuchea] leaders who sit before us today,” she said.

An estimated 1.7 million people died during the three years, eight months and 20 days that the Khmer Rouge held power, a time Ms. Leang described as full of “toil and dust, suffering and grief, pain and death.”

Before leaving the court, Nuon Chea’s lawyers said they did not have anything further to add to his statement, while Khieu Samphan’s defense team said it was their duty to act in their client’s best interests.

Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said the actions of the accused and their lawyers threatened the expediency of the trial, a priority given the age of the defendants.

“I would say that the trial chamber should be more inventive and play a leadership role so that the boycott by the defense doesn’t become an obstruction to the proceedings,” he said.

Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn said a decision on the conduct of the defense teams would be issued at a later date and expressed his hope that defense lawyers would attend Tuesday’s meeting.

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Correction: A previous version of this story mistakenly quoted Lars Olsen, legal communications officer at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. In fact, the comments regarding a possible delay in proceedings were from tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra.

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