Faced with time pressures due to short funds and the uncertain health of the accused, lawyers and judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal hurried through the examination of civil party Pin Yathay yesterday.
Yathay had a lot to say. As one of the few Cambodians to escape across the border into Thailand during Khmer Rouge rule, Yathay said it was his responsibility to tell the world about the relocations, forced labour and deaths occurring under the regime.
“I wanted to spread the news through journalists,” said Yathay, who himself wrote two books about his experiences, L’Utopie Meurtrière (Murderous Utopia) in 1979, and later, the popular Stay Alive, My Son.
Yathay said that after crossing the border, “authorities questioned me on the Thai side. And some Western country [representatives] and journalists also questioned me.
I was in prison, because I had no passport at the time, and they detained me for at least one week.
Of course, the prison condition there was much better than the living condition in Cambodia at the time.”
As an engineer in the Lon Nol regime’s Ministry of Public Works, Yathay initially had greeted the Khmer Rouge April 1975 victory with mixed feelings but thought that “no country in the world would reject having all the technicians, engineers and every educated person to help rebuild the country.”
His view quickly changed, and by September, Yathay and his family had been asked along with about 5,000 other families to eke out what existence they could in the middle of a forest, with only minimal rice rations to supplement their scavenging.
Yathay estimated that one-third of the 5,000 were dead by the end of November.
“Mr Pin Yathay, you have a lot to say,” said international co-prosecutor Keith Raynor. “But if you answer my questions at the length you’ve already answered questions, you will not cover the material I want to ask you.”
Civil Party lawyers had given Yathay similar reminders, and during his examination by Ieng Sary defence counsel Michael Karnavas, Yathay noted, “I believe you have not fully covered the points I wrote in the book.”
But Yathay’s “statement of suffering” at the end of the hearing was relatively concise.
“I want the prosecution to complete as soon as possible so that justice can be done for me and all the victims,” Yathay said. “We are all advancing in our age.”
Due to co-accused Nuon Chea’s continued hospitalisation, the court adjourned until February 18, when it will hear testimony from expert witness Elizabeth Becker.
To contact the reporter on this story: Justine Drennan at [email protected]