A UN-backed trial of four senior Khmer Rouge leaders has begun in Cambodia. Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Leng Sary and Leng Thirith all served under ‘Brother Number One’ Pol Pot, who died in 1998. They are accused of participating in the 1970’s ‘Killing Fields’ revolution in which 1.7m Cambodians – a quarter of the country’s population – were tortured and killed.
All four are expected to enter ‘not guilty’ pleas. The trial is a crucial test for Cambodia, a country where the shadow of the Pol Pot era remains ever-present. The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established in 2005 with help from various international organisations in an attempt to provide a framework for the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
The trial opening today is the first major test of the ECCC’s effectiveness. Although the ECCC has spent a lot of money, it has been criticised for so far having handed down only one verdict: Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, sentenced to 19 years in prison for his role at the notorious S-21 torture centre in Phnom Penh. Many Cambodians felt that the sentence was far too lenient, and will be watching the latest case to see if the four leading associates of Pol Pot are dealt with any differently.