Despite previous rulings, matter is before trial judges
The second day of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s trial of four top regime leaders focused on former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary’s claim that he is protected from prosecution because he received a Royal Pardon and Amnesty when he defected to the government in 1996.
This week’s hearings are dedicated to jurisdictional objections and other issues that must be settled before evidence can be heard in the case against Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, 84, head of state Khieu Samphan, 79, Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith, 79, and Ieng Sary, 85.
Another week of preliminary hearings in August is expected before the court begins to weigh evidence later this year, starting with an examination of the structure of Democratic Kampuchea and the roles each accused person played in the Communist Party of Kampuchea.
Judges on Monday struggled to assert control over four separate defense teams for the first time, but yesterday’s session was managed smoothly with minimal interruptions.
However, Nuon Chea, again wearing sunglasses and a ski cap, continued his boycott of court proceedings.
His lawyers announced on Monday he would refuse to attend until judges agreed to hear all his proposed witnesses and preliminary objections. But when he appeared in court yesterday morning, Pol Pot’s second-in-command said he was simply not very interested in the day’s agenda.
“Since there is no agenda to be discussed in relation to my case and the focus of discussion is on Ieng Sary’s defense team, I will walk out and return to my detention facility. Only [when] my case is to be discussed shall I return to actively participate,” Nuon Chea said before hobbling out of the room, escorted by security guards.
As on Monday, the day ended with only one defendant in the dock, with Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith leaving early because they felt unwell.
Ieng Sary’s lawyers argued yesterday that he cannot be tried because he was handed a Royal Pardon and Amnesty in 1996 by Norodom Sihanouk, who was then King, in exchange for leading a mass defection from the Khmer Rouge that helped cripple the movement.
The pardon covered his 1979 conviction for genocide at the Vietnamese-backed People’s Revolutionary Tribunal, widely considered ceremonial, while the amnesty protected him against prosecution under the 1994 law outlawing the Khmer Rouge.
“Mr Ieng Sary has abided by all the conditions of the amnesty and the amnesty itself brought all the very fruit it was intended to bring: peace to Cambodia, because after that all the rest put down their arms or just gave up,” said his American lawyer Michael Karnavas.
Pretrial and investigating judges have both ruled against Ieng Sary on the matter but it is being aired once again now that the trial has begun. Prosecutors say the scope of the pardon was confined to Ieng Sary’s 1979 sentence and that pardons or amnesties for international crimes are not permissible.
Two visitors to the court yesterday from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district, a former Ieng Sary stronghold that has remained intensely loyal to him, felt strongly that the Khmer Rouge tribunal had no right to try their old leader.
“Mr Ieng Sary had a Royal Pardon and Amnesty for his commitment to build peace and end the prolonged civil war, which would never have ended without his sacrifice,” said Svay Beau, 57, a Malai commune councilor. “Because I don’t have the power to take him out of the dock, I just hope the Trial Chamber seriously considers the Royal Pardon and Amnesty and other sacrifices he made for the country.”
“From my point of view, he is a great father who treated us super-well during the Pol Pot regime as well as afterwards,” added Khoem Kheng, 54, the deputy chief of Malai commune, who sobbed loudly as she spoke. She said she had served as Ieng Sary’s cook during the Khmer Rouge regime. “I feel sympathy for him because he deserves to spend the rest of his life outside jail, enjoying the peace that he provided for us.
Civil party Soum Rithy, 58, disagreed.
“Ieng Sary is a bloody-handed criminal and horrible leader and must not be pardoned,” he said. “I hope the Trial Chamber will prosecute this leader…to set a good example that committing crimes must deserve punishment.”