Cambodian Genocide Trial Restarts, Briefly

1-9-15 Khieu Samphan
Khieu Samphan, a former president during the Khmer Rouge regime, sits in the dock before Cambodia's genocide tribunal ruled on an appeal against his pre-trial detention, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh April 23, 2008. Chor Sokunthea/Reuters

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia held hearings Thursday in the genocide trial involving Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the Associated Press reports, the first since the trial was suspended at the end of November.

The hearings adjourned after only a few hours, as 83-year-old defendant Khieu Samphan was said to be suffering from dizziness and the effects of high blood pressure. He was taken to Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Cambodia's capital city of Phnom Penh.

Khieu Samphan in 1976 was appointed head of state of Democratic Kampuchea—the authoritarian regime set up and ruled by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), or Khmer Rouge, between 1975 and 1979. The other defendant, Nuon Chea, 88, became deputy secretary of the CPK in 1960, making him second in command to Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, with whom he had ultimate power over decisions within the party.

"At least 1.7 million people are believed to have died from starvation, torture, execution and forced labour during this period of 3 years, 8 months and 20 days" that the Khmer Rouge was in power, according to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

The case against Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea was split into two parts due to concerns that the age and health of the defendants would prevent the trial from being completed.

In August 2014, both were found guilty of crimes against humanity, including "extermination (encompassing murder), political persecution, and other inhumane acts (comprising forced transfer, enforced disappearances and attacks against human dignity)," by the U.N.-backed ECCC during the first phase of trial. They were sentenced to life in prison.

The second phase of the trial opened in October, with the defendants facing charges that include genocide against Cham Muslim and ethnic Vietnamese minorities, forced marriages and rape and internal purges of the Khmer Rouge ranks.

That phase was quickly impeded by the defense boycotting the proceedings. Lawyers for Khieu Samphan said they could not properly represent their client in the second phase of the trial while working on an appeal of the first verdict. Their continued refusal to participate in the proceedings finally led the court to adjourn until January 8, despite the court's finding that the counsel was obstructing the trial.

The proceedings resumed Thursday, with Khieu Samphan present in the courtroom and Nuon Chea forced to follow along from his holding cell due to ill health.

The first witness, Meas Sokha, who was incarcerated by the Khmer Rouge as a teenager, began his testimony Thursday morning, describing his arrest along with several family members, his detainment and his transfer to the Kraing Ta Chan prison.

"When I arrived at Kraing Ta Chan, I didn't see my father and I met Yin Sin [a friend], who told me, 'Your father was taken away and left only his lighter,' and that he was very severely tortured before he was taken," Sokha testified. The court broke for lunch after Sokha had begun to describe the prison's layout, and then adjourned because of Khieu Samphan's health problems.

Officials said the tribunal, which had been due to reconvene Friday, would be suspended again until January 15, the AP reports.

The trial had resumed the day after the country's current ruling party, the Cambodia People's Party, celebrated the 36th anniversary of Pol Pot's regime being overthrown by the Vietnamese Army and Khmer Rouge defectors. Known as Victory Over Genocide Day, it is a divisive holiday in Cambodia, with some viewing it as "the day the Vietnamese invaded the country."