Cambodia: Khmer Rouge tribunal 101

The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia from 1975 until 1979 and is blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million people. The Maoist group tried to build an agrarian society purged of foreign influences. Until now, none of its senior cadre has gone on trial, and Pol Pot, its paramount leader, died in 1998 in a jungle camp after losing power to Vietnamese occupiers.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal, a joint effort between Cambodia’s judiciary and the United Nations, opened in 2006 and has so far spent more than $100 million on investigating and trying surviving members of the senior leadership.

Only one has been prosecuted and found guilty. Here are five frequently asked questions answered:

Mark Peters/ECCC/Reuters
A photo showing the courtroom of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, June 27. The four most senior surviving members of Cambodia's murderous Khmer Rouge regime went on trial for war crimes on Monday, three decades after its "year zero" revolution marked one of the darkest chapters of the 20th century.

1. What is the tribunal and why is it significant?

The Khmer Rouge tribunal was established in the 1990s as a way to set the historical record straight and bring a measure of justice and accountability for survivors of the genocide.

Cambodia's prime minister, Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who isn't accused of any war crimes, was reluctant to allow an international tribunal. He has repeatedly warned that a wide-ranging inquiry could imperil the country's political stability.

As a compromise, the United Nations agreed to a jointly run tribunal known officially as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The bench consists of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors. It's unusual for a UN genocide tribunal to be held in the country where the genocide occurred.

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