War crimes suspect Nuon Chea on Wednesday followed in the footsteps of his colleague and trial co-defendant Khieu Samphan and informed the Khmer Rouge tribunal that he would no longer testify in his trial for crimes against humanity.
Citing compromised fair trial rights, Nuon Chea, 87, said in prepared remarks from his holding cell that he no longer wished to participate in being cross-examined.
His announcement comes a little more than a week after he discounted all documentary evidence presented in court against him.
“As I have always reiterated, this court has failed to respect a principle of fair and just trial and through my observation, the treatment toward the accused and my defense team is getting worse,” Nuon Chea said, adding that he has “no confidence” in a court that favors the prosecution over the defense.
“This is a case of life and death for me. It is not just for an expeditious process to punish me. With such a lack of confidence and imbalanced treatment by the chamber, I would therefore like to notify it that in order to respond to questions put by the prosecutors and the parties I decline to do so due to this nature of injustice by this very court. I’m grateful,” Nuon Chea said.
His speech was met with disbelief in some quarters as the realization sunk in that neither of the remaining war crimes suspects—who were two of the Pol Pot regime’s highest-ranking members—would be providing any personal insight into their roles.
Lead Civil Party Co-Lawyer Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort said she was “flabbergasted by what I heard, though I was not surprised.”
“I regret infinitely what is happening,” she said. “My comments are the same as they were in my response to Khieu Samphan’s decision. Little by little, the accused and defense teams are positioning themselves as victims. I find it regretful.”
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Tarik Abdulhak wasted no time in reminding Nuon Chea’s defense team that prosecutors would be petitioning the Trial Chamber judges to draw “adverse inference” when deliberating the outcome of the trial, as they have already done regarding Khieu Samphan. In this case, Nuon Chea’s silence would be treated as an attempt to cover up evidence that suggests wrongdoing.
Khmer Rouge historian David Chandler said in an email that he suspects that the decision to remain silent for the remainder of the trial was “probably planned some time ago.”
“Khieu Samphan is much more on record than Nuon Chea has been about his Democratic Kampuchea activities, and it seems to me that if he testified, he would be easier to trip up,” Mr. Chandler said.
“I think the two decisions to keep quiet are disappointing, understandable and perhaps not unexpected. Of course something will be missing from the transcript if these men don’t explain themselves, but I suspect they think they are going to be condemned in any case and so they decided to be quiet. I doubt if either of them ever had any respect for the ECCC or accepted its jurisdiction.”
An email from a senior legal officer that was made public by the court Wednesday shows that there are no witnesses lined up after Stephen Heder finishes his testimony tomorrow.
According to Panhavuth Long, program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, “the accused have tried their best and done as much as they can to delay the proceedings.”
“I would say that what has been raised by the accused is not part of logic and defense, it’s just a strategy to delay the case.”
However, he added, “it’s also a reminder to the judges that they need to ensure that proceedings respect the right of the accused and of parties.”
Mr. Heder continues his testimony today.