The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Monday officially opened the trial [case materials] of three former Khmer Rouge officials charged with crimes against humanity, breach of international law and genocide. Prosecutors began their opening statements in the trial against Nuon Chea [profile], the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist, Khieu Samphan [profile], a former head of state, and Ieng Sary [profile], the former foreign minister. A fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith [profile], was ruled unfit to stand trial and ordered to be released [JURIST report] by the ECCC last week because she suffers from Alzheimer's. Prosecutors filed an immediate appeal [JURIST report] of the decision to release Ieng Thirith. The prosecution will have two days for opening statements followed by half a day of opening statements for the defense. The first segment of the trial is expected to conclude by December 16 for Christmas recess and will resume after the holiday break on January 9. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay welcomed the opening of the trial [press release].
In October, defense lawyers for Nuon filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] for interfering with the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. Nuon's lawyers accused the prime minister of criminally conspiring to block some of the defense witnesses from testifying [Reuters report] and consequently interfering with Chea's right to a fair trial. In September, the ECCC ordered the trials be split into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. The ECCC said that the separation of trials will allow the tribunal to deliberate more quickly [press release] in the case against the elderly defendants. The first trial will focus on the beginning two phases of population movement and allegations of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution not on religious grounds and forced disappearances associated with the first phases of population movement. Subsequent trials will focus on the third phase of population movement, genocide, persecution based on religious grounds and violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [ICRC backgrounder].