Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan on Monday stood in the court where he is being tried for war crimes and pointed the finger at Prime Minister Hun Sen, saying that he was less responsible for crimes during the Pol Pot regime than the prime minister.
Mr. Samphan was responding to a civil party witness who had asked him why so many people were killed during the bloody regime.
“First of all, I would like to inform you that I am not the Khmer Rouge,” Khieu Samphan said after being asked about a number of Khmer Rouge policy decisions by Yos Phal, a civil party to the trial and a former Lon Nol regime police officer.
“And I cannot bear responsibility for those accusations,” Khieu Samphan said.
“Let me give you an example. In the case of Mr. Hun Sen, will he be responsible for the actions committed by the Khmer Rouge? In my case, it’s even further remote from Hun Sen’s instance. I did not know anything at all of what happened between 1975 to 1979,” he said.
“Regardless, I wish to express my sympathy to you, to your suffering and experience and your loss of your parents, relatives and your beloved ones.”
A number of high-ranking members of Mr. Hun Sen’s government have sought to distance themselves from their roles in the Khmer Rouge regime, including Finance Minister Keat Chhon, Senate President Chea Sim and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Hearings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week are dedicated to civil parties to the war crimes court, allowing them the opportunity to speak out about the trauma inflicted upon them and giving them the opportunity to directly address and question co-defendants Nuon Chea—who remained in his holding cell Monday and refused to answer—and Khieu Samphan, who sat in court and responded.
Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said by telephone that Khieu Samphan’s comment about the prime minister was an attempt to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions, though he would not respond directly regarding the comment.
“Khieu Samphan was at that time the president of the Democratic Kampuchea,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said.
“Who is responsible for that? He was among the ringleaders of the Khmer Rouge. The highest position…. So he must be responsible. If I were Khieu Samphan, I would admit the mistake I committed to my people in the killing fields.”
Earlier in the day, one after the other, four civil party witnesses told of their deep suffering under the regime, describing how family and friends were wiped out.
Civil party Sang Rath, 72, was dwarfed by the chair in which she sat to give her testimony. Slight and with a furrowed brow and occasionally trembling bottom lip, she told the court that her four sons and husband died within two days of each other.
“Food became a bit more sufficient after the death of my husband and children as I was all by myself with pain and suffering,” she said of the ladles of watery rice gruel people were expected to survive on.
“I no longer have any family members or relatives. My four children died, my husband died. They all died under the hands of the Khmer Rouge.”
Forty-eight-year-old Aun Phally tearfully described losing both his parents and all of his siblings following the evacuation of Phnom Penh, from which they were forced at gunpoint.
After the death of his immediate family, he ended up in Battambang province’s Mong Russei district where his grandmother and a cousin “died in front of my eyes.”
As the sole survivor in his family, Mr. Phally said it was heartbreaking when he was treated in the hospital after contracting malaria.
“The scene was unbearable to me, because patients had relatives and siblings come to comfort them. I was on my own with no one to comfort me.”
Testimony by Sou Sotheavy, 72, an advocate for gay and lesbian rights and director of the Cambodia Network Men Women Development, an NGO that works with sex workers and sexual minorities, honed in on the subject of gender-based and sexualized violence by the Khmer Rouge.
Ms. Sotheavy had been living with four transgender friends near Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium when Khmer Rouge soldiers gunned her friends down during the evacuation of the city on April 17, 1975.
Ms. Sotheavy broke down when she described seeing a friend soaked with blood after having been anally raped by Khmer Rouge soldiers. Through her heaves and sighs, an aide gently rubbed Ms. Sotheavy’s back.
The horrors endured by Ms. Sotheavy—including multiple rapes, a forced marriage and having to masquerade as a man in order to avoid drawing unwanted attention to herself—remain with her to this day.
“I had to eat some leaves on the road to appease my hunger,” she said. “I was time and again raped and I was tortured and my jawbone broken and I was shackled by the legs. I was forced to endure hard labor when I was asked to break some rocks,” she said, repeatedly dabbing the tears away from her eyes.
“The jawbone that was broken—I still feel some pain. Forced rape and torture was inflicted on me and I still live with these memories for the rest of my life. I’m too poor to afford [therapy]. I am all by myself. I am very poor I have no relatives.
“Words cannot be used to describe the great suffering…. The pain is too great.”
She asked Khieu Samphan if he was aware of what happened to her and if he acknowledged the deaths of people at places such as S-21 and the Choeung Ek killing fields.
In his response, Khieu Samphan said: “I would like to inform you that my name is Khieu Samphan and I am not Pol Pot, nor Nuon Chea, nor Ieng Sary, nor Vorn Vet nor Son Sen,” he said in reference to other regime leaders.
“This means I cannot attach myself to the entire Democratic Kampuchea regime.
“I myself am also a Khmer person, and of course why should I kill my own people and get other people to come and live in my own country?” he said, adding that during his revolutionary days he merely wanted to see off the Vietnamese and prevent Cambodia from being wiped off the map.