Continuing his testimony as an expert witness at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Friday, historian David Chandler said forced biographies during the Pol Pot years ushered in a “new era of Cambodian literature.”
The writing of one’s biography was expected of new party members, and was a core part of the regime, forcing members to expose aspects of their past.
“They were used extensively in the regime,” Mr. Chandler told the court. “It was a new era of Cambodian literature, and people prepared biographies for use in study sessions. Biographies were key.”
Mr. Chandler said such accounts helped the regime separate the wheat from the chaff.
“The Democratic Kampuchea figures determined that elements of your past life would be indicative of how you’d operate. If you were a rich peasant, you’d be less likely to be a good comrade, and having relatives who had supported Lon Nol made you less pure.
“Biographies were a very important weapon…or tool for the regime,” he said.
Mr. Chandler, 79, took the stand on Wednesday as the first expert witness in Case 002.
Since then, his testimony has covered several crucial chapters of the regime, from Pol Pot’s Office 870 headquarters to the military tactic of emptying Phnom Penh in 1975.
On Friday, he told the court that intellectuals, who were widely known to have been purged while the Khmer Rouge who in power, had been muzzled.
“Intellectuals were reduced to silence, and I want to make it clear that the category of intellectuals in Cambodia were not primarily the graduates of Cambodia’s single university, but had been through teachers’ training, completed high school,” he said. “They knew who they were.”
However, Mr. Chandler said, “they were reduced to silence by the policies of the regime. They were reduced to saying and doing only things the regime wanted them too.”
As a result, this section of society was unable to contribute ideas “that could have helped the regime.”
“Many of the memories of people who remember the April 17, 1975, obliteration of Phnom Penh say they wanted to help the victors, but they didn’t know anything about the Communist Party of Kampuchea. They thought, ‘War is over, I have a high school education—I can help,’” Mr. Chandler said.
He also opined that a letter written by Khmer Rouge Minister of Information Hu Nim, one of the highest-ranking regime officials to be tortured and killed at S-21 prison, and addressed to Pol Pot, Son Sen and Khieu Samphan, was never delivered.
“A key point of documents like the many pleading documents that came out of S-21, is that they never left the building,” Mr. Chandler said.
“They were kept on file by [Kaing Guek Eav] Duch, who was a fastidious archivist…. Once the person was in S-21, they
had no recourse to a higher authority.”
Mr. Chandler will continue to give testimony when the case resumes on Monday.