The defence for former Democratic Kampuchea head of state Khieu Samphan presented key documents at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday in an effort to prove that the regime’s central leadership was not responsible for the crimes that occurred under the regime.
After a two-week recess, the court has returned to continue hearing testimony relating to the roles of Samphan, and his co-defendant Nuon Chea, in relation to various charges of crimes against humanity.
First, Samphan defender Anta Guisse presented quotations from historian Michael Vickery’s book, Cambodia 1975-1982. In the excerpts, Vickery speaks of a “profound division” that existed between the peasant class and the city folk long before the Khmer Rouge.
Vickery wrote that “long-suppressed resentment occasionally exploded in violence, however unjustified”, when urbanites were relocated to the countryside as part of the Khmer Rouge’s project to empty the nation’s cities. Vickery argues given the pre-existing “resentment” and “hostility”, violence was inevitable, prompting Guisse to claim “resentment from villagers towards city folk led to violence that the leaders could not control”.
Next, Guisse read from issues of the party’s official magazines, Revolutionary Flag and Revolutionary Youth, which have frequently been described as propaganda. “We must bear in mind that providing the people with the means of subsistence is a fundamental and long-term duty,” she quoted.
“[W]e must take concrete efforts to find solutions for the populations . . . If they haven’t yet eaten, we should not in live in luxury or waste or abundance,” another section said.
The Communist Party of Kampuchea also encouraged keeping the population well-fed and healthy to maintain the strength of the army and workforce. “Beyond the moral condemnation of bad behaviour . . . it’s also of interest to note that for the CPK to treat the people badly was counterproductive to the revolution,” Guisse said.
Nonetheless, famine and starvation were near-ubiquitous under the regime.
Two more sources by historians Steve Heder and Roeland Burgler were used by Guisse to assert that the central leadership did not have control over local policies. In Heder’s paper, he claims “district authorities knew that giving this green light for executions was in violation of party policy” and goes on to assert that the party centre was often not informed of the executions. Similarly, Burgler writes in The Eyes of the Pineapple that “real power was in the hands of the zone party committees and their secretaries”.
The prosecution will respond to the documents today.