Defence counsel for former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan presented a series of documents at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday in a bid to demonstrate that the regime’s alleged persecution of Vietnamese people was political, not racial, and therefore not included under the charge of genocide.
Sourcing scholars, newspapers, propaganda and Democratic Kampuchea (DK) meeting records, defence lawyer Anta Guisse highlighted that the “historic conflict” with both the Cham Muslim and Vietnamese people existed prior to the Khmer Rouge regime.
“The issue was not race, the issue was politics,” Guisse said. “The problems that may have occurred were not created by the DK, but these excesses committed against the Vietnamese [were] … problems that dated back to the Lon Nol regime.”
The defence pointed to scholar Stephen Heder’s analysis of the Khmer Rogue’s oft-repeated slogan “Khmer body with a Vietnamese head” – a description often applied to Khmer Krom, or ethnic Khmers born in Vietnam, who were also persecuted under the regime.
“Being physically or racially Khmer was no protection,” Heder wrote, explaining the mantra conjured a Vietnamese political structure on top of Cambodian leadership.
“We cannot speak about desire or will to commit racial genocide or extermination on the basis of race … because it corresponds more to political repression,” Guisse said.
Other documents she cited admitted that while the Cham were indeed victimised more than other groups, it was due to their refusal to abstain from daily prayers. Other documents suggested the Cham were important to the revolution.
Civil party lawyers yesterday also presented documents detailing the harrowing accounts of ethnic Vietnamese victims – describing mass killings and false confessions extracted through torture. “He was beaten 50 times with a whip,” one account read.
“He could not endure . . . so he just made up his answers,” said another. Nuon Chea’s defence lawyer, Victor Koppe, was again absent from court yesterday.
In a letter dated February 19, and obtained yesterday, the trial chamber again referred Koppe to the Amsterdam Bar Association for “possible professional misconduct”.
The letter outlines a series of comments Mr Koppe gave in an interview with the Mekong Review, including the statement: “I have nothing but professional contempt for the international judges”. The trial continues on Friday.