(Brendan Brady contributed reporting)

Phnom Penh — THE old and withered man, adorned in what looked like an oversize tea-cosy and sunglasses, seemed an unlikely mass-murderer when he appeared in court for the first time on June 27th. That is often the way with people brought to justice long after their alleged crimes were committed. In this instance, the accused was Nuon Chea, second in seniority only to Pol Pot as a former leader of the Khmer Rouge, the Maoist movement responsible for the deaths of as many as 2m people after it seized power in Cambodia in 1975 and attempted to implement its crazed notions of Utopia. However eccentric Mr Nuon Chea looked in court, age and captivity have not softened his resolve. He remained defiant throughout, refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the court and walking out after only a brief attendance. His attire, as it turned out, was well chosen—the tuque to stave off the chill from the air-conditioning, the dark glasses to shade him from the glare of the lights.

His day in court saw the beginning of the second trial of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (to give the tribunal prosecuting former members of the Khmer Rouge its full title). The trial will surely be a long and controversial one. One prosecutor working for the UN-backed court calls it the most “complex” since the Nuremberg hearings at the end of the second world war.

The first trial, which closed last year, was comparatively straightforward. The sole accused, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as “Duch”, was contrite and pleaded guilty to charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes, committed while he ran Tuol Sleng, a notorious prison at a former school in the middle of Phnom Penh, the capital, to which 17,000 of the regime’s victims were taken to be tortured and killed—only seven came out alive.

Continue reading here

[Published by The Economist on  June 30, 2011]