[JURIST] The UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] on Thursday ordered the trials of four alleged Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder] leaders be split into a series of smaller trials [order, PDF]. The ECCC said that the separation of trials will allow the tribunal to deliberate more quickly [press release] in the case [materials] against the four 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]. The ECCC supported its decision, saying:
Separation of proceedings will enable the Chamber to issue a verdict following a shortened trial, safeguarding the fundamental interest of victims in achieving meaningful and timely justice, and the right of [the defendants] to an expeditious trial.
The ECCC based its decision on an internal rule adopted earlier this year, which allows the tribunal to separate cases into smaller trials.
Earlier this month, the ECCC concluded three days of hearings [JURIST report] in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh to determine whether two of the four senior Khmer Rouge leaders were fit to stand trial on accusations of genocide and other war crimes. A court-appointed expert indicated that 79-year-old Ieng Thirith [ECCC backgrounder], the sister-in-law of Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, suffered from dementia and memory loss and needed additional psychiatric assessment [AFP report]. The expert found no major concerns with 84-year-old “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea [ECCC backgrounder], though Chea contested the assessment. In May, a panel in the ECCC denied a motion for pretrial release [JURIST report] by former Khmer Rouge official Ieng Sary [ECCC backgrounder], 85, who served as deputy foreign minister under the regime during its reign in Cambodia from 1975-1979. Ieng’s co-defendants Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan [ECCC backgrounder] have all challenged pretrial custody unsuccessfully.