As the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday concluded the first week of technical hearings in the trial of four senior regime leaders, former head of state Khieu Samphan announced in a speech that he would cooperate with the court to share his version of events.
The only defendant who has spoken at length since the trial began Monday, Khieu Samphan also demanded that the court hear witnesses proposed by his defense team. Yesterday’s half-day public hearing was devoted to discussing, under pseudonyms, people who might be called to testify later this year.
This “is a very important moment for me and for my fellow Cambodian citizens, who are hungry for understanding what happened between 1975 and 1979,” he began. “I personally have been waiting for the moment for so long…. As long as I feel as healthy as I am today, I will contribute to the best of my capacity, of course to the bottom of my heart, to assist or cooperate with the work of the court.”
The court’s other elderly defendants—Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, 84, Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, 85, and Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith, 79—-all appear more fragile than Khieu Samphan, also 79.
Reading from what appeared to be a page of typed remarks, Khieu Samphan went on to complain that none of his witnesses were on the court’s provisional list, and that the fairness of proceedings could be compromised if they were not allowed to speak on his behalf.
He said the people in question “have known me very well, they have been close to me, they have known where I would be doing anything, and of course they would have a very good account of me.”
“They shall be heard,” he concluded. “I don’t say they should, but they shall be heard.”
Before and after his remarks, Khieu Samphan offered a “sincere salute” to the monks in the audience. He and his co-defendants are accused of formulating policies to eradicate religion that led to the widespread destruction of pagodas and defrocking of monks.
Civil party Hun Choem, 76, from Takeo province’s Tram Kak district, said he supported Khieu Samphan’s bid for more witnesses.
“To give a fair trial to both parties, the victims and the accused, I support the Trial Chamber to agree to the request made by Mr Khieu Samphan today,” he said. “If [the defendants] provide potential witnesses, it will reveal all the corners of the facts behind the mass killing in their regime.”
But time is of the essence. In the significantly less complicated 2009 trial of Kaing Guek Eav, best known as Duch, the court managed to hear the testimony of just 55 witnesses, victims and experts over 72 days. Duch was also younger and healthier than Case 002’s defendants, and unlike them, he largely accepted the charges against him.
In Case 002, prosecutors, defense teams and civil parties have nominated hundreds of factual and expert witnesses, with the Nuon Chea defense alone requesting over 300, a reduction from the 527 they had nominated earlier this year. Judges attempted this week to whittle down that number into a more manageable list but the parties may still nominate more witnesses.
As the names are still confidential, yesterday’s public discussion was brief.
But in remarks that were quickly interrupted by judges, Victor Koppe, a Dutch lawyer for Nuon Chea, accused the court of excluding key defense witnesses who could testify on Vietnam’s policies toward the Khmer Rouge. He then all but named Pen Sovann as one of them.
“Mr X is perhaps best known as the first Prime Minister of Vietnam’s puppet government in Cambodia, the People’s Republic of Kampuchea,” Mr Koppe said before being cut off and admonished by Judge Nil Nonn, the Trial Chamber’s president.
Although Nuon Chea had previously refused to remain in court when his own case was not being discussed, he sat through yesterday’s entire session.