KR Tribunal Defendant’s Wife: ‘I Feel Hopeless’

Khieu Samphan’s wife, So Socheat, came to the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday intending to witness the court as it tried her husband, only to find there was little to see.

“I am here. I would like to listen and witness the process. How can they provide both justice to the victims and for my husband?” she said.

“I feel hopeless.”

So Socheat sat in the Pre-Trial Chamber, mere meters away from her husband, who sat with pensive, folded hands, as the rough history of his case was read out.

Then, like the rest of the public, she was left to confront an empty blue video screen as prosecutors, defense and judges continued deliberations behind closed doors.

Prosecutors, over objections raised by the defense, asked that the session be held privately, because the defense had called into question evidence that was still secret.

Judges agreed that debate over the validity of investigative secrets could not be conducted in public.

The silence left So Socheat skeptical.

“I want the process to be in public so people are aware of what’s going on. I want the court to present evidence,” she said, adding that she would gladly serve as a witness.

It is early yet for evidence, as the trial proper has not started. At issue Wednesday was the narrow question of whether Khieu Samphan, arrested on Nov 19, could be released pending his trial.

As it turned out, few secrets were discussed because Khieu Samphan’s French lawyer Jacques Verges refused to participate in the proceedings, arguing that thousands of documents had not been translated into French.

To So Socheat, her husband was a loyal servant of Cambodia who has been left with little after a life of selfless dedication.

“I know my husband well. I live with him. He is not living out of self-interest. He’s not killed anyone,” she said.

“Most people believe my husband was innocent.”

So Socheat said she lived out the Khmer Rouge years with her husband, their two children, cook and security guard in a house near the Royal Palace.

From her vantage point, the Khmer Rouge looked like beneficent stewards of the population. They asked her to save food and conserve for the people who had been evacuated to the countryside, she said.

“That’s why I don’t believe the regime killed people.”

She too feels the press of un­solved crime: Her brother was killed during the Khmer Rouge era and her parents were arrested, she said.

She wants to know who was responsible.

“We keep asking who arrested them. We don’t know until today,” she said.

“Now I can see as a victim. During the regime, I was not aware of any abuses.”

She said she expects little deliverance from the Extra­ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

“I think it’s just politics. It’s just revenge,” she said. “Everybody knows the Pol Pot regime divided into two—one was the Pol Pot faction.

“They just take revenge on each other. Politics is behind the process.”

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said So Socheat has every right to her opinions, but that judges had declared the hearing secret. “I cannot explain the decision of the judges,” he said.

“The court tries to do everything balanced,” he added. “We don’t put politics ahead of us. We put justice ahead of us. Here you cannot hide anything. There are a million eyes looking at you.”

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