The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Tuesday heard the testimony of a civil party left traumatized by the workload at the Trapaing Thma dam worksite who said he felt lucky to have survived. But his appearance prompted defense lawyers to air concerns that civil parties testimony was threatening their clients’ right to a fair trial.
The witness, Nhip Hort, was born in 1952 in Battambang province, part of the Khmer Rouge regime’s Northwestern Zone where the dam site was located.
When soldiers began recruiting workers, he volunteered to join a mobile unit to harvest rice at Sala Koohom village in Serei Saophoan district, where years of backbreaking labor took a toll on his health.
The long hours bent harvesting rice in the field followed by nights carting heavy sacks of rice caused him to fall ill. As he was lifting a sack one day, he doubled over, vomited blood and passed out before waking up in a hospital.
“It was lucky for me. They placed me in a room where corpses were kept. They intended to bury me, but when they noticed I could move my limbs they took me back,” he said.
Once he recovered, he was sent to work with a mobile unit to build the first of Trapaing Thma dam’s bridges, where he started work at 3 a.m. to meet a quota of moving 5 cubic meters of earth per day.
Mr. Hort said he remained scarred by the punishing work and suffered post-traumatic stress today as a result.
“I endured hardship and I lost my relatives and loved ones,” he said. “I am weak now, because of my experiences.”
But Victor Koppe, a lawyer for defendant Nuon Chea, fired a burst of short questions to determine how Mr. Hort—who admitted that his post-traumatic stress was self-diagnosed—was certain that his condition had been caused by work at the dam site. He questioned the propriety of Mr. Hort’s inclusion in Case 002 because he could not prove the link.
The Trial Chamber has already ruled that the questioning of civil parties can relate to facts, not just the human toll of the alleged crimes, but that the facts could not exceed the trial’s scope.
The defense was reminded that the opportunity it had been given to dispute the inclusion of any of the civil parties had passed.