LIAM COCHRANE, REPORTER: For Khmer Rouge survivor Hong Huy witnessing Cambodia's war crimes tribunal has been a deeply personal experience.
HONG HUY, KHMER ROUGE SURVIVOR (translation): To see the court searching for justice made me feel so happy. We just heard the names of those leaders who forced us to work very hard, with people dying from starvation, children being taken from their parents. So when we went to the court and saw the leaders on trial, we felt so excited.
LIAM COCHRANE: Hong Huy was one of the millions of Cambodians forced into labour camps in 1975, growing rice and building irrigation systems that were part of the warped Communist dream of the Khmer Rouge. At least 1.7 million people died of starvation, overwork, and murder, and the tribunal is an attempt to prosecute the Khmer Rouge leaders considered the most senior and most responsible. The court's first case found Khang Khek Leu, better know Duch, guilty of numerous crimes, including torture and enslavement. He was sentenced to life imprisonment. Case two began with four accused but senior leader Ieng Sary died this year and his wife, Ieng Thirith, was found to be mentally unfit to stand trial, leaving ideologue Khieu Samphan and deputy leader Nuon Chea. Due to the numerous charges and the complexity of the tribunal, case two was split into mini-trials starting chronologically with crimes against humanity in three areas: the evacuation of Phnom Penh, the forced movement of people, and the killing of a group of Khmer republic soldiers in Pursat Province in 1975.
TRIAL LAWYER (translation): For crimes organised and orchestrated by the accused were among the worst horrors inflicted on any nation in modern history.
LIAM COCHRANE: In the early stages of the trial, the accused defended their roles in Cambodia's darkest days.
NUON CHEA, ACCUSED (translation): I, Nuon Chea, have been given an opportunity today which I have been waiting for so long. That is to explain to my beloved Cambodian people and the Khmer children about the facts that occurred during Cambodia's history.
LIAM COCHRANE: The court heard from experts and witnesses, with much of the testimony focusing on the evacuation of Phnom Penh and the toll it took.
PECH SREY PHAL, TRIAL WITNESS (translation): I had no breast milk to feed my baby, I had no medicine, I had no milk. Unfortunately, my baby died during the evacuation and they told me to bury my baby in the forest like an animal.
LIAM COCHRANE: Nuon Chea explained why the Khmer Rouge ordered people out of the capital.
NUON CHEA (translation): First it was the fear that the Americans would drop bombs on the cities after Lon Nol's government became defunct. Second, Cambodia had gone through five years of war and the country was suffering from food shortages.
LIAM COCHRANE: Nuon Chea insisted the entire population of Phnom Penh had left voluntarily. Survivors and their families were able to tell of their suffering and to put questions directly to the accused.
YIN ROUM DOUL, TRIAL WITNESS (translation): Do you plan to express your sorrow to the world, to the nation, to myself?
NUON CHEA (translation): Morally I take responsibility, and on this occasion, let me express my sincerest condolences for the loss of your family members.
LIAM COCHRANE: But when the time came to answer questions from the Civil Party members, there was a sudden change of heart.
KHIEU SAMPHAN, ACCUSED (translation): I would like to inform you that I have decided to exercise my right to remain silent. The court has failed to respect my rights and the rights of my defence counsel.
NUON CHEA (translation): I have no confidence in this court as reflected by Khieu Samphan.
LIAM COCHRANE: The shift came as a shock to many. But even more mundane legal matters, like the presumption of innocence, and the right to a defence lawyer, challenged the notions of justice amongst some Cambodians.
HONG HUY (translation): I was disappointed to see the defence lawyers who protected the accused. This wasn't the treatment that we got during the Khmer Rouge.
LIAM COCHRANE: Youk Chhang has dedicated the last two decades to compiling evidence about the Khmer Rouge period. While he is critical of the quality of the defence counsel and its emphasis on politics, Youk Chhang says its mere existence is a lesson for the nation.
YOUK CHHANG, DIRECTOR, DOCUMENTATION CENTRE OF CAMBODIA: I think that the defence is important in any unit at the ICC (International Criminal Court) because this is a country where justice - people take justice at their own hands, where people can get killed from stealing motorbikes.
LIAM COCHRANE: Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has warned that expanding the reach of the Khmer Rouge trials could divide the nation and lead to civil war. But Youk Chhang sees it differently.
YOUK CHHANG: It will be divided because we care. I divided my mothers and my nieces and how justice is being done for my sister who were killed brutally in Pursat Province.
LIAM COCHRANE: The three Cambodian judges and two UN appointed international judges will consider the evidence and are expected to announce a verdict in the first half of 2014. But both the accused are in their 80s, and the court has struggled to find funding, so it's unclear if further parts of case two, covering allegations of genocide and other serious crimes, will ever be heard. Despite the setbacks, Hong Huy remains hopeful.
HONG HUY (translation): I expect the tribunal will bring justice for the Khmer Rouge victims.