International lead co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian delivered his closing statements in the trial of Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan yesterday, speaking about one of the charges that has gained the most attention throughout the trial: genocide against the Vietnamese and Cham people.
Koumjian began by speaking about crimes carried out against the Vietnamese in Cambodia, alleging that the government’s initial policy of simply deporting Vietnamese nationals eventually transformed into a policy of extermination both within Cambodia and abroad.
“In the beginning of the regime . . . it was [Khmer Rouge] policy to remove the Vietnamese . . . from Cambodia. That intent evolved over time, and we see in the latter years of the regime that the intent was to destroy, to kill, all those that remained,” Koumjian explained.
“Brother Number Two” Chea and former Democratic Kampuchea head of state Samphan were both quoted claiming that the Vietnamese were in fact engaged in genocide against Cambodians, a tactic Koumjian said is common in persuading a population to commit genocide of its own against the alleged enemies.
Chea once said the Vietnamese “will never abandon their ambition to wipe out the Cambodian race”, while Samphan said in 1977 the Vietnamese behaved “like Hitler” and wanted to “enslave our people and turn all of us into Vietnamese”.
Koumjian believed the strongest evidence that Cambodia’s ultimate goal was to destroy the Vietnamese people lies in a statement from Pol Pot broadcast on the radio in 1978. In the broadcast, Pol Pot estimated that each Cambodian soldier was capable of killing 30 Vietnamese, and therefore Cambodia could wipe out the entire population with only 2 million soldiers.
“We don’t have to engage 8 million people. We need only 2 million troops to crush the 50 million Vietnamese,” Pol Pot said.
Koumjian played clips of personal testimony recounting mass executions, including the murders of infants. Two 7-year-old Vietnamese boys were imprisoned and executed at the infamous S-21 prison for allegedly being spies.
He also recalled stories of atrocities committed in Vietnamese towns across the border by Cambodian troops that, while outside the scope of this trial, may be evidence that the Khmer Rouge’s goal was to wipe out the population as a whole.
Koumjian next moved to the topic of alleged genocide against the Muslim Cham minority, explaining that the situation for them differed in that many Cham were given the opportunity to survive by abandoning their customs. This, he argued, still constitutes genocide. He pointed to international law on the matter.
“Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such,” the law states. Koumjian focused on the phrase “as such”, claiming that a group can be destroyed in whole or in part if it is materially changed.
“What does it mean to destroy a religious group ‘as such’?” he asked. “If you stop these people from practising their religion, the group no longer exists. The individual may exist but you have destroyed the religious group as such.”
Koumjian argued that in addition to killing Cham people simply for being Cham, they forced them to abandon their faith and dispersed populations.
The co-prosecutor closed by speaking about the role of the accused, claiming Samphan and Chea were Pol Pot’s most trusted advisers, and therefore equally responsible for the development and implementation of his policies.
“I entitled this section in my own notes: The Gang of Three,” Koumjian said.
“Khieu Samphan, along with Nuon Chea, were Pol Pot’s closest associates. And I want to be clear we are not saying they were among Pol Pot’s closest associates . . . The centre consisted of . . . this gang of three.”
Koumjian pointed out that according to surviving standing committee minutes, Chea attended 18 meetings, Pol Pot attended 17 meetings and Samphan attended 16 meetings. The next most involved member attended 12 meetings.
Samphan’s defence council in particular has argued that he had limited knowledge of the crimes carried out because, despite being the country’s head of state, he claims to have not been high ranking within the party itself.
Koumjian, however, explained that by January 1978 Samphan was the only surviving member of Office 870, and therefore all communications sent to that office should be considered direct communications with him. Among those telegrams were messages informing the office of mass murders committed in Vietnamese territory.
National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang closed out the final statements, requesting life in prison for the accused. “Unlike the teenage security guards that the [Khmer Rouge] forced to work at places like S-21, and who were pressured to abuse, torture and kill or be killed themselves, these accused were under no such pressure.
"It was them who developed these criminal policies to create this atmosphere of fear and terror, not they who were subject to them.”