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Khmer Rouge court witness learns of wife’s fate

Khmer Rouge court witness learns of wife’s fate

In a rare show of common cause, defence and civil party lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday objected to an attempt by senior assistant prosecutor Keith Raynor to unveil the fate of a witness’ wife to him as he sat on the stand giving testimony.

The witness, 53-year-old Kim Vun, worked in broadcasting and state-run journalism at the Khmer Rouge’s Ministry of Propaganda and Education. His wife, Chim Nary, was employed reading daily radio broadcasts until she disappeared in the late 1970s.

Raynor prompted objections from several lawyers when he tried to show Vun a document that contained identities of prisoners held and killed at the notorious Phnom Penh torture centre, S-21.

The list, it emerged later, bore Nary’s arrest and execution date – both in May of 1978. Vun and Nary also had a toddler daughter who disappeared under the Khmer Rouge. There was, apparently, no information about her whereabouts.

Jasper Pauw, from the Nuon Chea defence team, said it was more “humane” to show Vun the document in private.

“I think we’ve left the realm of legal objections in this case when the prosecution asks the witness whether he would like to see this document,” he said.

Trial Chamber president Judge Nil Nonn agreed and Vun was shown the document during a break outside of court.

Vun had been dabbing at tears while talking about his wife, and recounting her disappearance about two years after the Khmer Rouge took power.

Now, it appeared, an answer was sitting on a piece of paper in the same room.

One day, she was removed to another office to “study”, a Khmer Rouge euphemism that could spell re-education or death. After almost a month, Vun began to get suspicious, so suspicious that he dared approach his superior.

“I would never have had the guts to see the minister before, but then I felt that I had nothing more to lose after losing my wife. So I had to meet the minister,” he said.

To his surprise, he was soon told that his wife worked for the CIA, an accusation found in several S-21 confessions. That, in its way, explained her removal.

“And when she left, she left with nothing . . . she did not bring any luggage,” he said.

It was when Vun finished his story that Raynor attempted to introduce the list with her name on it.

But even before he was shown the name during a break, Vun must have been aware – as was anyone listening – of the pending revelation. The fact that it was pressed on him in open court for everyone to see did not sit well with most of the parties.

“I think if he wants to see the document, he can ask for it, and it can be printed,” said Elisabeth Simonneau Fort, the lead international civil party co-lawyer. “I think it’s very strange.”

Claire Duffy, a tribunal monitor with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said what’s equally important is that support be provided to witnesses who receive this type of information.

Underlying the exchange, however, could be what Duffy called a “long-term positive”.

“One of the objectives of setting up any international criminal jurisdiction is to provide the truth to victims of atrocities. Maybe the ECCC has helped this man ascertain the truth about the fate of his wife – it’s just the method of delivery that seems to be far from ideal.”

Contacted by the Post yesterday, international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley stood by the decision to reveal her name. He said in an e-mail that the document could not be provided to Vun before the hearing, as internal rules prevent prosecutors from contacting witnesses before giving testimony.

“Had the witness shown any reluctance to deal with the issue, or had it been apparent in any way that the issue was traumatic to the point where it could not be dealt with in open court, we would obviously have not proceeded further,” he said.

He noted that afterward, during the lunch adjournment, Vun thanked the Witness and Experts Supports Unit for providing him with the document, and he asked if there was any additional information on his missing daughter.

As for the line of questioning, he said Raynor acted in the best interests of the case.

“I would have done exactly as he did in these circumstances, and I have praised him for the way he dealt with this situation. I absolutely reject any allegation of insensitivity to the witness. Indeed, the opposite is true.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joseph Freeman at [email protected]


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