Appeal hearings in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Case 002/01 were cut short yesterday, following a 20-minute speech by appellant Nuon Chea that concluded with him instructing his defence lawyer to walk out of the proceedings.
Chea – the former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea who, along with Khieu Samphan, was found guilty of crimes against humanity in Case 002/01 – was granted permission by the Supreme Court judges in the morning session to deliver a statement, purportedly to explain the absence of his international co-lawyer, Victor Koppe.
Starting with an admission of remorse and “moral responsibility”, as well as an expressed desire for Cambodians to “learn the truth”, Chea then launched into a damning indictment of the tribunal.
“[The tribunal] seemed to operate as though its mission was simply to endorse the instructions of a handful of officials in power, and tell a tale approved by the government before the tribunal was established. And I was right,” he said.
He went on to characterise his life sentence in Case 002/01 as a “shameful failure” that was little more than a waste of time, effort and “hundreds of millions of dollars”.
“It actually managed to take us even further away from the truth and to make a mockery out of justice altogether, just in order to prosecute me,” he continued, making apparent reference to a recent report by three leading research organisations that detailed a litany of irregularities in the conduct and judgement of Case 002/01.
Chea went on to address substantive issues in the trial, claiming that evidence had been ignored and distorted.
“They ignored evidence that the party was in fact divided internally, and that some zones acted autonomously,” Chea said, pointing to the CPK’s Central Committee members Sao Phim and Ruos Nhim who attempted a coup “organised and instructed by Vietnam”.
Lambasting the judges for cutting off microphones, demonstrating “extreme bias” and impeding his lawyers from presenting evidence he claims would prove a Vietnamese plan to “invade, expand, swallow up Cambodia, and eliminate the Khmer people”, Chea said the court’s judgement “serves no one but the Vietnamese”.
Claiming repeated violations of his right to a fair trial, Chea pointed to “the most serious violation of them all: the trial chamber’s refusal to call Heng Samrin as my witness”.
Samrin, the current president of the National Assembly, was “a regiment commander and deputy commander of one of the divisions which led the evacuation of Phnom Penh”, Chea reminded the court.
“[Samrin] was one of Sao Phim’s right-hand men in the East Zone military, he could have testified extensively about how the evacuation was to be carried out. I am sure he would have agreed with me that no unnecessary harm was to be inflicted upon the people of Phnom Penh and other cities.”
Chea criticised the decision to not accept Samrin and filmmakers Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath as witnesses, saying their evidence would provide context, offering “insight into the head and tail of the crocodile, and not just the crocodile’s body”. Their evidence, he continued, “confirms that Vietnam attempted a coup d’etat during the Democratic Kampuchea period”.
Because of this decision, Chea told the judges, “The outcome of the appeal is now irrelevant to me.”
Lemkin himself has accused the court of “selectively” using material from his documentaries Enemies of the People and One Day in Tuol Po Chrey to support the prosecution, while ignoring the potentially exculpatory evidence they may contain.
In a May interview with tribunal judges, Lemkin acknowledged that he had several recorded interviews, which he was willing to provide, relating to the “political agenda” of Ruos Nhim – one of those accused by Chea of destabilising the regime – and of his “activities in an attempt to take control over the party”.
However, the Supreme Court Chamber ultimately ruled not to call Lemkin as a witness or to enter all of his recorded materials into evidence in the appeal.
Yesterday, instructing his Cambodian defender, Son Arun, to withdraw from proceedings, Chea maintained that his appeal still stood “to help the Cambodian understand the truth”. He then concluded with an appeal to the judges to “have courage” in writing their judgment.
Judge Agnieszka Klonowiecka-Milart immediately made it clear to Arun that he was not in a position to leave the courtroom according to the internal rules.
“It is not up to the accused to decide whether or not you stay in the courtroom, it is up to the chamber to dismiss you following an application,” she said, warning Arun that if he left he would be in contempt of court.
Arun held that Chea’s instructions superseded those rules and this was a matter of fulfilling obligations to his client.
Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian rebutted that this was tantamount to obstruction and, as such, not within Arun’s rights.
“These proceedings are extremely serious; [Chea’s] being here is not an invitation, like a cocktail party he can decline to attend . . . he is here to face serious charges,” he said.
Khieu Samphan defender Kong Sam Onn joined the fray in defence of Arun’s right to leave the courtroom, responding to Milart’s comments directly.
“If the court decides it is in contempt of court then it is a threat to the profession of lawyers,” he said.
Proceedings then continued normally for a short period until Chea’s team defied the judge’s warnings and did not return from the day’s morning recess.
The prosecution and civil party counsels held that proceedings should continue regardless, with Koumjian arguing that Chea had “clearly waived his right to representation”.
However, the judges deliberated for several hours into the afternoon before Supreme Court Chamber president Kong Srim announced a decision to adjourn and seek standby counsel for Chea.
Speaking after adjournment, court spokesperson Lars Olsen said it was unclear whether the judges intended to appoint a counsel for both Arun and Koppe or just the national lawyer, whose presence is the minimum requirement for proceedings to continue.
“Despite needing to reschedule the hearing, the chamber will continue to deliberate, it does not mean a delayed pronouncement of the judgment,” Olsen added, although it is unclear when hearings may resume.