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Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide trial battles political pressures

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In a preview of the legal battles ahead, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, the regime’s second in command, accused the court Monday of bowing to political pressure. The lawyer cited the tribunal’s failure to take on other cases as a sign of such interference. “The sole purpose of the judicial investigation was to collect evidence against our client and ignore the evidence that would put [him]… in a positive light,” says Mr. Nuon's lawyer, Michael Pestman, as opposed to the impartial investigation it was set up to be.

Monday's pretrial hearings

Hundreds of Cambodians packed the public gallery to watch the pretrial sparring between legal teams. Substantive hearings and witness testimony are expected to start by September, though the trial could run for several years, raising doubts about the longevity of the aging cadres, some of whom are said to be in poor health.

The presiding judge said Monday that suspects who weren’t fit to appear in court could watch the hearings on television in their nearby prison. Nuon Chea, who wore dark glasses and a black ski hat, later left the courtroom in an apparent fit of pique after speaking briefly of his unhappiness with the legal process.

Theary Seng, an activist who has helped victims’ groups file civil suits in the tribunal, said she welcomed the trial and was hopeful that it would shed light on the secretive regime. But she expressed frustration regarding the judge’s leniency toward Nuon Chea. “We just lost the most visible symbol of justice: his face,” when he walked out, she says.

Hybrid tribunal

The other suspects are Ieng Sary, the regime’s head of state, his wife, Ieng Thirith, a senior minister, and Khieu Samphan, the foreign minister. Pol Pot, the regime’s Paris-educated leader, died in a remote jungle camp in 1998.

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