Former second-in-command of the Cambodian Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] regime on Monday denied responsibility for the deaths of around 1.7 million people during the regime's rule during the 1970s at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website]. The trial against three former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, all charged with crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [text] and genocide, began in November [JURIST report] with opening statements. Nuon Chea [UN backgrounder], known as Brother No. 2 of the Khmer Rouge regime, proclaimed his and his fellow defendants' innocence while blaming Vietnam for the deaths with which his own regime is charged. Nuon Chea was the only one of the three defendants, including Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan [UN backgrounders], to address the tribunal on Monday, while only one of the other three defendants is expected to testify during the trial. Four defendants were originally charged in the case, but the fourth defendant, Ieng Thirith, was found to be unfit to stand trial and ordered to be released [JURIST report].
In October, defense lawyers for Nuon Chea filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] for interfering with the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. Nuon Chea's lawyers accused the prime minister of criminally conspiring to block some of the defense witnesses from testifying [Reuters report] and consequently interfering with Nuon Chea's right to a fair trial. Because of the old age of the defendants, the tribunal decided to split the case into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. 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. The first segment of the trial is expected to conclude by December 16 for a recess and will resume after the break on January 9.