Less than a week after saying he felt morally responsible for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime, 86-year-old war crimes defendant Nuon Chea on Tuesday reverted to his long-held stance that systematic extermination and the starvation of people was not Khmer Rouge policy.
Addressing the Khmer Rouge tribunal last week, Nuon Chea said for the first time that he was “responsible for what happened during the period of Democratic Kampuchea” and that he felt “remorseful for the crimes that were committed intentionally or unintentionally.”
But responding to three civil party witnesses in Case 002 on Tuesday, Nuon Chea—though offering his condolences to the victims—stepped back from his admission of qualified responsibility for the deaths caused by the regime.
“Allow me to express my sorrow,” Nuon Chea said when asked by 67-year-old Sophany Bay, who told the court of the horror of losing her three children, whether or not leaders were aware of the killing of children by cadre.
“Allow me to offer my condolences to the loss and clearly state that Democratic Kampuchea did not have any policy to kill its own people.
“On the contrary, it only had policies to rescue and build the people to become good citizens, to become compatriots and loving one another. As in the case of your children, the Democratic Kampuchea regime didn’t have any policy to kill children, young children. Allow me to reiterate that clearly. And allow me to share sorrow of your family members,” Nuon Chea added from his holding cell.
Ms. Bay, whose husband was a sister of Lon Nol’s first wife, described Tuesday how, after contracting dysentery, her infant daughter was killed after she was injected in the head by a Khmer Rouge medic. The other two children died of starvation. She buried all three herself and nearly went insane, she said.
Khmer Krom civil party witness Soeun Sovandy, 57, then took the stand and told the court that the ethnic group had been singled out and targeted during the regime after they were accused of being Vietnamese.
“Vietnamese would be destined for smashing,” he said.
Nuon Chea—this time seen lying on his bed in the holding cell and speaking into a microphone placed in front of him—said that policy did not exist.
“Democratic Kampuchea had no policy to segregate people, divide or categorize,” he said. “Khmer Krom were considered Cambodians in order to defend our country…. There was no reason to segregate Cambodian people from the Khmer Krom.”
Tuesday’s final civil party witness, Seng Sivutha, 47, survived the regime, but her eyesight did not. Now blind because of being beaten about the head when she was forced to work collecting pig excrement as a child, she asked the co-defendants if they were aware of the forced labor of children.
Nuon Chea declined to answer the question because he said he was tired. Khieu Samphan, however, stood and responded, at times appearing to shake his head in disbelief.
“The events you described really shocked me,” he said. “I did not have even the slightest knowledge that minors were used to work as adults…. You fell and were beaten until you lost your eyesight. I can’t even imagine.”