The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
After two years of hearings and testimony from witnesses and civil party applicants, the first “mini-trial” in a monumental case against the remaining two out of an original four Khmer Rouge defendants is nearing an end.
Starting on Wednesday, and over the next two weeks, the public will hear civil party lawyers demand reparations for their clients, who number in the thousands, and the prosecution will also advise the Khmer Rouge war crimes court as to what sentences they feel are appropriate, given the crimes that both Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan are accused of committing.
The tribunal will also hear for the last time from the defendants’ legal teams, both of which are likely to argue that their clients were not fairly tried and that they were not guilty of evacuating Phnom Penh when Pol Pot rose to power in 1975, or putting people to death during their regime.
The two charges regarding the emptying of Phnom Penh, which lead to many deaths, and the execution of Lon Nol-regime soldiers at the Tuol Po Chrey killing site in Pursat province were whittled down from a massive Closing Order so as to segment the case and ensure that the elderly defendants would see the end of their trial.
But perhaps one of the key moments will come if the aging defendants address the court themselves, as both men refused to be cross-examined in the later stages of this trial. Both have strenuously insisted that they had nothing to do with the allegations against them, though Nuon Chea did, earlier this year, express a rare show of remorse for the suffering his regime caused.
Hearings for closing statements in Case 002/01 are tentatively scheduled to last through October 31, after which the panel of judges will retire to deliberate a verdict—expected to be delivered in the first half of next year.
An order by the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber that the second of the “mini-trials” begin as soon as closing statements in the first trial finish is being “actively pursued” by court officials, court spokesmen said at a press conference Monday.
“There will be a Trial Management Meeting after closing statements, where parties will be invited to make submissions regarding the future scheduling of this case,” said Lars Olsen, the court’s legal officer, adding that the legality of continuing to try the defendants should they appeal the decision in their first trial will have to be explored.
“The Supreme Court Chamber decision says it must include minimum charges of genocide, S-21 and work cooperatives” to make it more representative of the crimes defendants Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan are alleged to have committed, he added.
In a briefing note published Monday, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights said a second “mini-trial” would need “a commitment by both international donors and the government to fund this.”
But as regards funding, which has been hand-to-mouth for most of the court’s existence and which this year saw national staff go on strike after being unpaid for months on end, Mr. Olsen said he did not know if or how a second trial in Case 002 would affect the budget.
“The court makes its determination based on judicial matters, not about future funding,” Mr. Olsen said, adding that budget requirements for the next two years would be presented to donors in New York in November.
Last week, the government relented to overwhelming pressure from the U.N. and agreed to meet the $1.8 million shortfall faced by the national component of the hybrid court.
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