UN human rights chief welcomes the opening of the genocide trial of three former senior Khmer Rouge leaders in Cambodia, while stressing the need for vigilance to ensure that victims’ rights are respected.
Opening statements are scheduled today from the prosecution and defence in the trial of former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former so-called Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former head of State Khieu Samphan on charges including genocide, crimes against humanity and torture.
It is the second case to be brought to trial by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a mixed court set up under a 2003 agreement signed by the UN and the Government to try those deemed most responsible for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 during which nearly two million people are thought to have died.
“This is another historic day for the people of Cambodia, many of whom have waited a long time to see the start of this trial, and who can at last begin to hear evidence of the atrocities committed all across the country over 30 years ago,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.
“The survivors’ testimony will undoubtedly help a new generation of Cambodians to understand their history and add impetus to the international community’s efforts to prevent future mass crimes,” she added in a news release.
Nearly 1,000 visitors came to the court to watch today’s proceedings, during which National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang depicted what types of crimes took place and how millions of Cambodians endured forced labour, tortures and inhumane conditions before being perished.
From the mass evacuation of the capital Phnom Penh on 17 April 1975 onwards to the torture and execution at security prisons around the country to genocide against the Cham Muslim and the ethnic Vietnamese, she illustrated how a series of crimes were committed under the regime presided over by the accused.
“Democratic Kampuchea… was one of the most brutal and horrific regimes in modern history,” she concluded after speaking almost all day.
The trial in what is referred to as Case 002 is considered one of the most significant in international criminal justice due to the magnitude of the crimes and its complexity, according to a news release issued by the UN Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials (UNAKRT).
“We’re embarking on an unprecedented journey,” International Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley said, speaking on the roles of the defendants during the regime and the legal framework for the case. “One in four Cambodians perished during the four-year reign of Democratic Kampuchea. The scope of human catastrophe during the regime was incompatible.”
Despite the progress made so far by the tribunal, Ms. Pillay noted that it continues to face challenges, particularly regarding the need to safeguard the integrity of its proceedings.
In a series of recent decisions, the minority judges of the pre-trial chamber have found “serious deficiencies” in the application of international standards in the cases still before the court’s investigating judges.
“It is essential that these concerns are squarely addressed as the court moves forward,” said the High Commissioner, adding that allegations of interference “mar the credibility of any court in the eyes of the public.”
Last week the ECCC’s trial chamber ruled that Ieng Sary’s wife, 79-year-old Ieng Thirith, the former Social Affairs Minister for the Democratic Kampuchea who was on trial for genocide and other crimes against humanity along with the other three men, is unfit to stand trial and ordered her unconditional release.