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Nuon Chea lawyers fire back

Noun Chea’s defence lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal came out fighting as expected yesterday, attacking the court for systematically failing to afford their client a fair trial, while castigating the prosecution for simplifying Democratic Kampuchea’s history and using selective evidence.

The defence also singled out top government leaders – namely Heng Samrin, Chea Sim and Prime Minister Hun Sen – as having “direct complicity” in the alleged crimes and being those with “the most to gain from perpetuating [the] tribunal’s simplistic narrative”.

Nuon Chea co-lawyer Victor Koppe opened the defence’s closing statements by calling the trial a “showcase” based on a foregone conclusion as to the guilt of the accused.

“[The] underlying thread is that no one in this court is interested in ascertaining the truth,” he said.

“This court was not established for the purpose of figuring out what happened in Democratic Kampuchea. This court was established for the opposite reason, because the people who founded it thought they already knew what had happened … [and] who was responsible.”

Although it is widely assumed that the Khmer Rouge “set out to murder anyone associated with the Khmer Republic”, he continued, the evidence linking the accused to the alleged crimes is “so limited” that the prosecution’s strategy has instead been to “persuade the chamber that the senior leaders … were monsters”.

In doing so, they have been forced to rely on secondary sources such as the work of journalists and historians in order to perpetuate a simplified story with “pre-packaged conclusions”, Koppe said.

“Mr President, if this was the way to conduct a criminal trial, we could have saved a lot of money for international taxpayers,” he said, going on to reference the prices of academic Stephen Heder and journalist Philip Short’s books.

“We could have conducted this trial for around $41.… We hope there is a reason we did not do that.”

Koppe went on to summarise key themes the defence believed had undermined the court’s proceedings, including the actions of senior Cambodian People’s Party leaders, whom he said continued to “seek to obfuscate” their role in events.

“Heng Samrin, Chea Sim and Hun Sen all took active roles in carrying out the policies, which the co-prosecutors say today were criminal,” he said.

“Their liability rises and falls with our client. If Nuon Chea is guilty, so too are they. If Nuon Chea enslaved the Cambodian population, then these three men … were his loyal executioners.”

Koppe added that National Assembly president Heng Samrin is the most senior living military official involved in the evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975 and the only known witness with direct evidence regarding Nuon Chea’s role in the execution of former Lon Nol officials at Tuol Po Chrey.

The trial chamber’s repeated failure to “admit exculpatory evidence and explore exculpatory theories” is most seriously exemplified by its refusal to call on Samrin, “the most important witness in Case 002/01”, he said.

By refusing to hear a number of witnesses, the trial chamber left the defence “no choice but to pick at the scraps of the witnesses chosen by the co-prosecutors”, Koppe continued.

Koppe went on to question whether judges on the international side of the court, “raised and schooled in capitalist societies”, could even be able to adjudicate alleged crimes linked to communist policies such
as collectivisation.

“The answer is, you cannot.”

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