Civil party witness Chau Ny—who was the first member of the Khmer Krom community to testify at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in November—was recalled to the stand Thursday to answer questions on claims he made previously that defendant Khieu Samphan had information related to the death of one of his relatives.
In court Thursday, he was given the opportunity to directly address former head of state Khieu Samphan about the disappearance of his family member and receive an immediate response.
In his victim impact statement on November 23, 59-year-old Mr. Ny—who survived Pol Pot’s brutal regime partly by changing his name and accent—told the court that Khieu Samphan had allegedly written to his wife’s uncle, Chau Sao, a prominent Khmer Krom banker.
The letter allegedly called for Chau Sao to come to Phnom Penh. When Chau Sao refused, a second letter was sent, after which he disappeared.
Mr. Ny asked Khieu Samphan at the time: “Where did he die? This is what I want to know. If I know where he died, I can find his skeletal remains, so that I can carry out a religious ceremony for his soul.”
This exchange prompted Khieu Samphan’s defense team to call on the Trial Chamber to have Mr. Ny return to the stand so that he could be asked about the allegations.
In having that request granted, Mr. Ny was on Thursday able to directly ask Khieu Samphan, who has been charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions, about the fate of his relative, who he described as “famous” in the Khmer Krom community and “a person of justice, not corrupt.”
“Mr. Khieu Samphan, what was the letter you sent to my uncle about? Because during the first time, he refused to return to Phnom Penh unless all the people were allowed to return,” he said.
“Why has Mr. Chau Sao disappeared ever since? If Khieu Samphan knows where Chau Sao died or disappeared, if so, can Mr. Khieu Samphan tell me please where he could have disappeared…where we can hold a traditional ritual ceremony?”
Khieu Samphan, 81, then stood to directly respond to the question and denied having ever written the letters.
“Allow me to inform you that I used to know Mr. Chau Sao during the 1960s,” Khieu Samphan said. “He was the president of a bank, the National Credit Bank. I understand your feelings, your suffering, and how your family could have felt by trying to find out about your uncle’s whereabouts and information on his fate…. Unfortunately, I have no information at all about the fate of your uncle. And I did not have any information about him during Democratic Kampuchea.”
Khieu Samphan insisted that there were no soldiers under his command that he could compel to deliver such a letter, and said that he too had had to flee Phnom Penh and abandon his family.
“I fully understand that you have the sympathy toward your uncle and for this reason, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk to you in person so that you understand my heart. I am talking from the bottom of my heart so that everything is clear and your mind is clear.”
Jennifer Holligan, a senior legal associate with Access to Justice Asia, which represents 134 Khmer Krom civil parties in Case 002, said the direct exchange was unprecedented in the case, and made her “pleasantly surprised.”
“[Mr. Ny] felt extremely grateful to the court for being there and having the opportunity to raise questions about Khieu Samphan, but he’s not satisfied with the answer,” she added.
Khmer Krom, or lower Khmer, which refers to the ethnic Khmer community in Southern Vietnam, were specifically targeted under the Khmer Rouge regime. Next week, hearings will focus primarily on the suffering experienced by civil parties.