PHNOM PENH: Cambodia’s United Nations-backed court on Thursday resumed the genocide trial of two ex-Khmer Rouge leaders over the mass murder of ethnic Vietnamese and Muslim minorities, forced marriage and rape in late 1970s.
Nuon Chea, 88, known as “Brother Number Two,” and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, were given life sentences in August for crimes against humanity.
The pair were the first top Khmer Rouge figures to be jailed from a regime responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979.
The resumption of proceedings brings to an end attempts by both men to boycott their second trial, in which they face genocide charges for the killings of ethnic Cham Muslims and Vietnamese as well as fresh counts of crimes against humanity and war crimes.
The trial began in July, but has been repeatedly delayed since mid-October after the defendants’ lawyers refused to attend, demanding the disqualification of the trial judges and more time to file full appeal documents.
All lawyers for the defendants attended the Thursday hearing.
For health reasons Nuon Chea followed the proceedings from a holding cell, while Khieu Samphan sat in court alongside his defence team. Both men deny all charges.
Khieu Samphan’s lawyers accused the court of trying to pressure his defense team against boycotting the trial by placing court-appointed counsel on standby.
“I have a right to a fair trial from a court which is impartial with my defense counsel of my own choice,” Khieu Samphan told the judges.
“Because there is pressure on my defense team… I do not any have hope in the chamber,” he said, adding he would exercise his “right to remain silent” throughout proceedings.
The complex case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was split into a series of smaller trials in 2011 in a bid to obtain a fast verdict against the two men, both of whom are elderly.
The August convictions followed a two-year trial focused on the forced evacuation of around two million Cambodians from Phnom Penh into rural labor camps, and on murders at one execution site.
Both men have lodged appeals against their convictions.
Led by “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, who died in 1998 without ever facing justice, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society in Cambodia in their quest for an agrarian Marxist utopia.
Somewhere between 100,000 to 500,000 ethnic Cham Muslims and 20,000 Vietnamese were believed to have been killed during the regime’s rule.