Defense Once Again Seeks Gov’t Witnesses at KR Tribunal

Initial hearings opened Wednesday in the second phase of the trial against two of the most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are being tried on charges ranging from genocide to forced labor and other crimes against humanity.

The defense team for 88-year-old Nuon Chea used the hearing to revisit an issue that has been raised in court before—urging the Trial Chamber judges to call high-ranking government and military officials who held Khmer Rouge positions to testify during the trial.

Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan attends the initial hearings in Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday. His co-defendant, Nuon Chea, observed the proceedings from his holding cell. (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia)
Former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan attends the initial hearings in Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday. His co-defendant, Nuon Chea, observed the proceedings from his holding cell. (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia)

Addressing the court in the afternoon, Suon Visal, a defense legal consultant, said an objection by National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang to have National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Senate President Chea Sim and CPP Senator Ouk Bunchhoeun testify would hamper efforts to ascertain the truth of that period. Ms. Leang had also objected to putting forward Royal Cambodian Armed Forces Commander General Pol Saroeun as a witness.

“This objection is without legal basis and is not permitted under Cambodian law, international law or internal rules for a witness to be excused because they hold a position in the government,” Mr. Visal said.

During the regime, Mr. Samrin was a division commander with Eastern Zone forces, while Mr. Sim was a district chief and Mr. Bunchhoeun a Khmer Rouge cadre in the same zone. In 2009, all three were summoned to answer questions at the court by then-International Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde. During the first phase of the trial, lawyers from the same defense team regularly called for Mr. Sim and Mr. Samrin to testify about the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh.

“We have repeatedly requested that these three witnesses testify in relation to their knowledge…of matters concerning the Democratic Kampuchea period between 1975 and 1979, particularly in relation to their activities as high-ranking cadre and key defectors who worked with Vietnam to incite divisions and… overthrow the [Communist Party of Kampuchea],” Mr. Visal said.

“The law has to apply to everyone, regardless of the position of that individual.”

Mr. Visal said the objection by Ms. Leang—which was not made jointly with her international counterpart, Nicholas Koumjian—implies that she “doesn’t want these witnesses to testify in front of this court,” even though “they are able to offer the most important testimony of all the witnesses involved in Case 002/02…to ascertain the truth of the period.”

Mr. Bunchhoeun, the CPP senator, said by telephone that his memories of the time are sketchy and that he himself lost 60 relatives in Eastern Zone purges, surviving them only because he escaped into the jungle and across the border to Vietnam.

“I do not have time,” he said when asked if he would go to the court.

“I have forgotten most of what happened…. I do not know what the court wants. What I remember is little. The story that I can tell is similar to the others that have testified.

“I was very small [low-ranking] and I never knew Nuon Chea. I was very, very far away from Nuon Chea. I am wondering why they are targeting me on this, as I do not remember and I did not know him.”

A verdict in the first phase of the trial is to be delivered on August 7.

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