Lawyer Compares Rhetoric of Khmer Rouge, Turkish Leader

In a heated exchange with French historian Henri Locard at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday, Victor Koppe, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, appeared to compare the rhetoric of the Pol Pot regime with that of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan—prompting Turkey’s ambassador to Cambodia to speculate that the lawyer was “confused.”

Mr. Koppe was aiming to discredit a wide range of statements made by the 77-year-old academic in court last week, including a claim that the regime’s leadership was “schizophrenic.”

French historian Henri Locard (ECCC)
French historian Henri Locard (ECCC)

Mr. Locard became increasingly frustrated as the Dutch lawyer grilled him on his expertise, methodology and even the level of scrutiny that his doctoral thesis on Khmer Rouge prisons received from the academic panel that reviewed it.

“Did you provide them with your notes? Were they able to read your notes, to verify your notes, to somehow verify that these were indeed the people you spoke to?” Mr. Koppe asked.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lawyer, I think you make this court—the people who are listening to me behind me—waste their time by asking me totally useless questions. You said earlier that your time is limited, so if your time is limited please ask me relevant questions,” the historian shot back.

Mr. Koppe replied that the questions were vital to ascertaining whether Mr. Locard possessed relevant expertise, going on to ask the historian about his claim last week that he initially jotted down the slogans that made it into “Pol Pot’s Little Red Book,” his most famous work, “just for fun.”

Mr. Locard replied: “If my collection of slogans were unacademic, stupid, a game, for fun, how is it that the Silkworm Books in Chiang Mai, a number of years later, asked me for publishing a second edition…and sold quite a few copies? And how is it that this book, as far as I know, is still for sale at Monument Books here in Phnom Penh?”

“That is indeed a very good question, Mr. Locard,” Mr. Koppe replied.

Later, when Mr. Locard was explaining that he believed the regime’s terminology referring to perceived enemies as “microbes or viruses or cancers” paved the way for mass murder, Mr. Koppe read out a quotation.

“‘We will continue to cleanse the virus from all state institutions because this virus has spread. Unfortunately like a cancer, this virus has enveloped the state’—Do you know who uttered this particular quote?” Mr. Koppe asked.

“Sorry, I cannot recall it,” Mr. Locard replied.

“Does this quote, this slogan, strikingly express DK [Democratic Kampuchea] policies?” Mr. Koppe said.

“This quote is definitely not a slogan but part, I suppose, of a speech or recommendation, probably on the part of some person in a position of power,” Mr. Locard responded.

“That is indeed correct. It was a quote from two weeks ago—President Erdogan, while addressing the opposition in Turkey,” Mr. Koppe said, before sitting down.

Ilhan Kemal Tug, Turkey’s ambassador to Cambodia, said there was no relation between the rhetoric of the Khmer Rouge and that of Mr. Erdogan, who thwarted an attempted coup last month.

“First of all my President was never referring to the opposition but to the terrorists who tried to depose a democratically elected Government with a coup attempt,” Mr. Tug said in an email.

“Therefore, it is difficult to comprehend the connection of the events which took place in Turkey with the Khmer Rouge tribunal. My best guess is that Mr. Koppe was in a confused state of mind when he tried to compare the two totally different situations during today’s proceedings.”

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