The defence for Nuon Chea continued to systematically challenge both the prosecution’s evidence against their client and the court’s very ability to fairly hear the case before it, as the lawyers concluded their closing arguments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Defender Victor Koppe, as he did on Tuesday, scolded judges for refusing to elicit the testimony of ex-Khmer Rouge military commander and current National Assembly Chairman Heng Samrin, which he referred to as “a non-negotiable minimum requirement of Nuon Chea’s right to a fair trial”.
Citing the court’s “lack of meaningful independence from the government”, Koppe reminded the international judges that under the court’s rules, at least one of their votes is required for a guilty verdict, and urged them not to do so.
“The national judges in the trial chamber cannot convict Nuon Chea alone,” he said, referring to the concerns at the trial’s outset that led to the implementation of the super-majority rule. “If the integrity of these proceedings means anything, the international judges must not help them.”
Co-defender Son Arun took over the afternoon session by again raising the issue of cultural bias, saying that in the 1970s, both the World Bank and the UN favoured the involuntary movement of people when it came to large-scale development projects, as long as “development” was considered in a Western capitalist context.
“The Communist Party of Kampuchea’s plan to evacuate Phnom Penh was to establish agricultural products as part and parcel of the Cambodian economy,” he said, noting that this had been branded “enslavement”, unlike the hydropower dams favoured by the UN and World Bank.
“These [organisations’] programs were acceptable because their purpose was closer to the more common narrative of progress than those of the Communist Party of Kampuchea.”
Arun challenged the prosecution’s evidence as having been cherry-picked for maximum damage – while ignoring evidence to the contrary – by reading a statement from a witness who had consented to the second forced transfer of people to the country’s northwest “because we knew there was a lot of rice and fruit in Battambang”.
“The significant variance in reported conditions proves that there was reasonable doubt as to how transferees experienced the second movement,” he continued. “Some suffered, but many did not.”
He added that no evidence exists to suggest that there were policies meant to cause suffering, attack human dignity or target specific groups during the second transfer of population, and maintained that there was no evidence to indicate Chea’s direct responsibility.
“With no such evidence to support a nexus between Nuon Chea and the alleged crimes, the chamber is left with no choice but to acquit Nuon Chea on this charge,” he said.