Serious issues related to investigative conflicts of interests and the Khmer Rouge activities of a senior member of the current government were sidelined yesterday when the court took on the atmosphere of “a playground”, as prosecutor Keith Raynor put it.
Nuon Chea defence’s questioning of noted academic Stephen Heder covered a spectrum of topics – many of them controversial – ranging from Heder’s time working for the tribunal, to information about current National Assembly President and ex-Khmer Rouge cadre Heng Samrin.
The testimony of Heder, whom Chea defender Victor Koppe has called “Mr Khmer Rouge Tribunal”, has been hotly anticipated and was, in turn, hotly contested.
When asked outright if then-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde had raised any concerns over a potential conflict of interest arising from Heder transferring between the court’s investigating and prosecuting bodies, Heder replied that “he said that the Anglo-Saxons might think that way, but of course they would be wrong”.
“Frankly, Judge Lemonde wasn’t prone to explain his managerial decisions to his staff with extensive legal reasoning,” he added, when asked to explain why.
The question prompted an objection from Raynor, which was raised and re-raised as Koppe repeatedly pressed Heder on whether he had been instructed by Lemonde to seek only evidence that would convict the accused, rather than potentially exonerate them.
The contentious objections carried on into the afternoon, including around the subject of the Khmer Rouge’s Eastern Zone, which Koppe insinuated was being avoided due to its association with members of Cambodia’s current ruling regime, including Samrin.
After a sharp rebuke from Raynor, Judge Silvia Cartwright maintained that the rulings were purely to prevent opinionated testimony, and reiterated the bench’s earlier threat to strip Koppe of his remaining time.
On multiple occasions, the bench intervened without an objection from the prosecution, at one point prompting Raynor to note that, with “no disrespect for the ruling”, he was fine with the question as long as it proved relevant.
Cartwright eventually acquiesced and, allowed to pose his question, Koppe referred to an account of Samrin’s involvement in the invasion of Phnom Penh, as well as an interview in which Samrin told scholar Ben Kiernan that Chea had instructed high-ranking cadres to “scatter” former Lon Nol officials rather than “smash”, the Khmer Rouge’s preferred euphemism for “kill”.
The bench ultimately prevented Heder from elaborating on the difference in the two terms, saying he could not broach the topic as he wasn’t an expert witness, though Heder himself later admitted that without seeing the original Khmer transcript, it would be hard to say definitively.