A day before the Khmer Rouge tribunal issues a final verdict in the first case against the regime’s most senior surviving leaders, defence lawyers in the second phase of the trial questioned witnesses on party purges and health problems under the Khmer Rouge regime.
In the current phase of Case 002, defendants Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea are being tried for various crimes against humanity, including internal purges and genocide.
Taking the stand in the afternoon via video-link from France was civil party Touch Sithorn, who worked in the Khmer Rouge’s Ministry of Social Affairs and was in charge of packing and distributing medicine.
Sithorn said she worked with her husband in the ministry until he was taken away and disappeared. After his disappearance, she continued her work distributing medicine to the provinces.
“Were you involved in . . . verifying whether these medicines actually arrived in these various zones?” asked Nuon Chea lawyer Victor Koppe.
Koppe read a quote from Sithorn’s superior, Ieng Tirith – who was herself a Case 002 defendant until dementia saw her severed from proceedings – in which she claims regional governors were purposefully destroying medicines and impeding their distribution. The Chea defence has long maintained that, far from having a monolithic top-down structure, the Khmer Rouge was riddled with factionalism.
Sorith, however, said she never witnessed such sabotage. “Medicine was distributed, people came to pick it up, and that was the end of my responsibility,” she said.
Questioned by defence lawyer for Khieu Samphan Anta Guisse, Sithorn also said she never heard of any planned coup against the leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea.
She did, however, say that guards once gave her a package of food meant for Tirith that was studded with broken glass. She believed the glass was an attempt on Tirith’s life, and suspected there was internal discord within the party.
“Later on, I learned that Son Sen’s wife and Ieng Tirith were not getting along, so I started to learn that there may have been an argument within the regime,” Sithorn explained.
Earlier in the day, civil party 2-TCCP-223 continued his testimony from the day before, detailing the party’s policy of indiscriminately executing everyone who was educated.
In an emotional final statement, the civil party asked Nuon Chea whether he took responsibility for the death of the estimated 1.6 million people who died under the regime.
“At present, I live with a status that is lower than animals, and that is a result of what happened during the regime,” the witness said through tears.