Prosecution paints picture of regime’s ‘nightmare’ rule
A chronological tale of death and devastation spanning the length of the Khmer Rouge regime’s nearly four-year reign unfolded yesterday morning as Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang delivered her opening statement in Case 002.
“The accused turned Cambodia into a massive slave camp, reducing an entire nation to a system of brutality that defies belief,” Chea Leang told the Khmer Rouge tribunal Trial Chamber yesterday. “One in four people did not survive.”
Opening statements have begun this week in the second case at the tribunal, which was established for the sole purpose of prosecuting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.
In the defence docks sat “Brother Number 2” Nuon Chea, former Khmer Rouge Minister for Foreign Affairs Ieng Sary and former Khmer Rouge nominal head of state Khieu Samphan.
Former Khmer Rouge Social Affairs Minister Ieng Thirth is no longer a part of Case 002 proceedings, after the Trial Chamber last week found her unfit to stand trial. Court-appointed experts believe she suffers from dementia, most likely Alzheimer’s.
“The nightmare of the [Khmer Rouge] rule began with the evacuation of urban centres on April 17, 1975,” Chea Leang said as she commenced a narrative of horror detailing the initial forced movement of the urban population in the early months of the regime.
“Blood streaked the floors” of overwhelmed hospitals as Cambodians were rounded up and forced out of urban areas, Chea Leang said, a sense of fear gripped inhabitants, and later witnesses would recall stepping on the sun-shriveled bodies of the dead that had fallen on the roads out of the city centre during the evacuation march.
It is almost impossible to tell exactly how many Cambodians perished under the Khmer Rouge. Prosecutors today estimated somewhere between 1.7 and 2.2 million. Prime Minister Hun Sen puts the number of those who died at more than 3 million.
The important challenge for the prosecution over the coming months will be proving that the three accused were senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime or those “most responsible” for the atrocities, conditions stipulated by the tribunal’s mandate.
Nuon Chea, who sat through all of yesterday’s opening statements, has requested he be severed from Case 002, claiming he is unfit to stand trial due to his ill-physical health. A central part of Ieng Sary’s defence is that a royal amnesty and pardon he received from the government in 1996 as part of a deal that made the Khmer Rouge illegal, prevents him from being prosecuted for the same crimes again.
Lawyers for both Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary interjected at the beginning of yesterday’s proceedings and requested that New Zealand Trial Chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright step down from her judicial position immediately, pending an investigation into alleged secret, ex-parte meetings she had been conducting over the past year with British prosecutor Andrew Cayley and tribunal deputy director of administration Knut Rosandhaug.
Ieng Sary requested that a statement he had drafted regarding the matter be read aloud in court, but Trial Chamber president Nil Non said the chamber would not entertain his request, saying that the court would consider the filings of the defence teams regarding Cartwright in “due course”.
Education materials distributed at the opening statements yesterday included a statement from Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“Not a single one of our people have been spared from the ravages brought upon our country,” said Hun Sen, who himself was a Khmer Rouge cadre in the east of the Kingdom before defecting to a resistance movement backed by the Vietnamese.
Among those attending the court yesterday to observe the start of the trial were some who had served the regime.
Chhim Porn, a former Banteay Meanchey Khmer Rouge deputy commune chief, said he came to the court yesterday to see the trial against the three accused senior leaders and compare their guilt with his own.
As a deputy commune chief, he personally executed a couple in front of a crowd of hundreds of cheering villagers. The couple had fallen in love with each other, a treacherous act that was sharply punished by Khmer Rouge forced-marriage orchestrators.
“I was a member of the commune, but they appointed me as a killer,” Chhim Phan said.
“My guilt is not because of my intention. I received the order for the prosecution of the couple from Ta Ath.”
Phy Pheoun, a former messenger for Ieng Sary, denied his former employer’s guilt. “I think that Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan should not be accused,” he said.
“I travelled across the provinces, but I didn’t see any people die during the regime.
“I saw that people faced great difficulty from hard work, but I didn’t see any killing.”
Opening statements from the defence will proceed today and tomorrow.