The trial of the Khmer Rouge's two surviving leaders has begun closing statements. Victims and their families have pleaded for belated justice almost 40 years after the brutal regime destroyed a generation of Cambodians.
Statements came Wednesday from the lawyers of "civil parties" representing victims. Observers expect the prosecution and defense to give statements through the end of October in the UN-backed trial and a verdict on the Khmer Rouge leaders to come in the first half of 2014.
"Forced transfers involved the complete emptying of towns and cities," civil party lawyer Hong Kim Suon said. "There was usually no food, water, shelter or medical care," he added. "The consequences of the forced transfers ... resulted in famine, disease and death."
Launched in 2006, the tribunal's Case 001 saw Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav sentenced to life in 2011 for overseeing the deaths of 15,000 people. The current trial against chief ideologist Nuon Chea (pictured) and head of state Khieu Samphan opened in 2011 and has included 212 days of testimony from 92 witnesses.
'I feel dizzy'
With the defendants so old, the court split Case 002 into smaller trials to examine evidence in chronological order. The first part focuses on the forced movement of people but excludes some of the gravest charges related to genocide, detention centers and killings.
Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, face charges of torture, enslavement and murder for planning and implementing the policies that killed an estimated 1.7 million people. Death and disability have robbed the tribunal of other defendants.
Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died in March, and the court declared his wife, Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirith, unfit for trial in September 2011 after doctors diagnosed her with dementia. The group's top leader, Pol Pot - also known as Brother No. 1 - died in 1998.
Just 20 minutes into Wednesday's hearing, Nuon Chea, known in the Khmer Rouge as Brother No. 2, voiced malady in the courtroom: "I feel dizzy. May I leave?" He sat in his wheelchair in a holding cell as the proceedings played on video link.
In power from April 1975 until January 1979, the Khmer Rouge emptied Cambodia's cities, forcing people to work in rural collectives and executing anyone suspected of dissent. The Khmer Rouge employed torture and death by starvation, lack of medical care, overwork - and execution: doing away with opponents around the country and burying them onsite in "killing fields."
Surviving victims hope that "after more than 30 years their right to justice and reparations will be realized," civil party lawyer Pich Ang said.
Underfunding and obstruction have hampered the proceedings. Prime Minister Hun Sen counts surrendered Khmer Rouge leaders among his political allies. He himself defected from the group at an early stage.
The tribunal has ruled that the next trial, to hear the charges of genocide, will begin as soon as possible, but spokesman Lars Olsen could not give a date.
"Funding and problems of judicial interference may prevent future cases from moving forward," the tribunal announced in a statement on Wednesday. The current trial "may be the last opportunity for victims of the Khmer Rouge regime to see justice."
mkg/hc (AFP, dpa, AP)