Foreign Minister Hor Namhong yesterday lashed out at defense lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal for “stirring up controversy around public figures” after a witness claimed in court that Mr. Namhong was in charge of the Boeng Trabek prison camp during the Pol Pot regime.
Witness Rochoem Ton, who was head of administration at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ B-1 office, made his claim on Tuesday during cross-examination by Andrew Ianuzzi, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea.
Nuon Chea’s defense team in particular has aimed to highlight the regime experiences of current Cambodian government officials including Mr. Namhong, who returned to Cambodia from France in 1975 and was imprisoned at Boeng Trabek with hundreds of other intellectuals and diplomats.
In a statement yesterday, Mr, Namhong said he had been a prisoner at Boeng Trabek, though he did not explicitly deny the claim that he was in charge of the prison camp.
“It is unfortunate that those who continue to defend the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime seek, in the interest of their defense, to deflect attention from themselves and their cases, by way of stirring up controversy around public figures like myself.
“The Khmer Rouge regime is an epic tragedy that continues to haunt Cambodia’s people today,” he continued. “As a prisoner at Boeng Trabek re-education camp where I lost two sisters, their husbands, children and a niece as well as countless colleagues, I have nothing but sorrow and empathy for the victims and their families,” he said.
“The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is a court of law, and not a political forum, and I believe attempts to politicize the court or stir up controversy are inappropriate,” Mr. Namhong said, adding that he hoped “the legacy of the Khmer Rouge is given its place in the dustbin of history-without defense or controversy.”
Mr. Namhong, along with several other government officials, flouted a 2009 summons from co-investigating judges to appear as a witness in Case 002. The defense has asked several witnesses whether or not they think the government is afraid of seeing Mr. Namhong take the stand.
Mr. Ianuzzi said he was not in a position to comment on his strategy of questioning witnesses at the court, but said he would welcome the opportunity to cross-examine the foreign minister.
“If Hor Namhong is truly concerned about justice in Cambodia, I would suggest he respect the summonses of the ECCC, and I would suggest that perhaps he present himself to give testimony before the Trial Chamber, and I would be quite happy to question him in court,” Mr. Ianuzzi said.
Clair Duffy, court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, agreed. “I think this again raises the issue that perhaps Mr. Namhong has crucial evidence to be given before the Khmer Rouge tribunal, and unfortunately, a press statement can’t qualify as evidence in a court of law,” she said.
“As far as we are concerned, it would be good to see testimony,” she added.
Ms. Duffy said that defense lawyers’ discussions of politics were justified given that their strategy is to question whether the three defendants can get a fair trial.
“To me, the issues the Nuon Chea defense have raised consistently are not about whether the clients are guilty or otherwise, but if the clients can be fairly tried before the court. Those allegations are inherently political.”
In 2008, Mr. Namhong sued opposition leader Sam Rainsy in France and Cambodia for defaming him in a speech that claimed he had headed the camp. Mr. Rainsy was found guilty in both countries, but the French Supreme Court later overturned the French ruling in April 2011. Mr. Namhong launched and won a suit against King Father Norodom Sihanouk in France in the early 1990s over similar claims.