The prosecution began its closing statements at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday, anticipating and pre-empting arguments from the defence as they attempted to establish that Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan were directly and personally responsible for the atrocities committed under their regime.
The current case against the pair, Case 002/02, includes charges of genocide, forced marriage, persecution of Buddhists and various other crimes against humanity, such as extermination and enslavement.
The defence for Nuon Chea has argued that the atrocities committed under the regime were the result of rogue factions and Vietnamese collaborators working against the central leadership, and has accused the court of bias and of following an overly simplistic narrative perpetuated by foreign historians. National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang, however, opened her statements yesterday with a staunch rejection of these claims.
“Contrary to what we have heard from the defence, this case is and always has been about the evidence . . . It is this evidence, and not anybody’s narrative, that proves the crimes for which the accused are responsible,” Leang said. “Evidence, not narrative; truth, not propaganda; facts, not conspiracy theories.”
From there, Leang and her colleagues spoke about the various crimes the two former communist leaders are being tried for, both summarising evidence for the existence of the crimes and presenting arguments for why the accused are responsible through personal culpability and joint criminal enterprise.
“There can be no serious doubt that one of the policies implemented by [Khmer Rouge] leaders was the closing of pagodas, disrobing of monks and prohibition of the practice of Buddhism,” Leang said, launching into one of the charges against the accused.
“Defence would have you believe it was just a coincidence that every pagoda was closed and every monk defrocked in every corner of the country. It was not. It was a decision made by Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan and other top [Khmer Rouge] leaders,” she continued.
Leang went on to trace the decision to eradicate Buddhism from Cambodia to a meeting held by high-level leaders in May 1975. One of the attendees of this meeting testified that both Pol Pot and Nuon Chea spoke about the need to close pagodas. Another attendee was the Tram Kak district secretary.
From there, Leang quoted testimony from a Tram Kak monk, showing that Buddhists faced persecution in that district in an attempt to directly link Chea’s comments to the crime.
“We were told that we cannot remain as a monk. Any monk should leave the monkhood or be defrocked,” Em Phoeung testified.
“I was told that . . . we all should be patient and follow their instructions, otherwise we would be killed,” Phoeung added later.
Deputy Co-Prosecutor Seng Bunkheang next presented on the topic of forced marriage, also seeking to establish direct links between the accused and the crime, and also pre-empting arguments from the defence that the crime amounts to putting Cambodia’s long tradition of arranged marriages on trial.
“Nuon Chea likens forced marriage to efforts countries have made to promote population growth by providing fertility centres,” Bunkheang said.
“Khieu Samphan, for his part, claims that forced marriages were an improvement on traditional marriage, and that the forced marriages were an insignificant shift from parents participating in choosing partners for their children to the government playing that role,” he continued.
“The testimony this court has heard . . . shows that the victims” – many of whom recounted experiences of rape and threats – “did not consider forced marriages to be an improvement”.
Assistant Prosecutor Dale Lysak concluded the session, taking a more emotional approach as he broached the topic of mass exterminations in security centres across the country.
“Hundreds of thousands of people murdered at these sites. Killings that left a hole in an entire generation of Cambodians that is still felt today in this country,” he said.
Lysak referred to Amnesty International’s report on the number of executions that took place in the year 2016, noting that there was a total of 1,032 executions reported.
“In one month alone, May 1978, at least 1,074 prisoners were executed at S-21. More than the entire worldwide total for 2016,” Lysak said.
Lysak then presented a brief slideshow, displaying photos of some of the victims executed at S-21 and a short description of who they were. Among the victims was a 13-year-old girl whose 8-year-old brother was also killed.
He also touched on the many reports and communications sent between the central leadership and the zone leaders, detailing exactly who entered S-21, what their crimes were and when they were executed.
“This evidence refutes any claim that they did not know what was taking place. They knew and they knew in excruciating detail,” Lysak said.
The prosecution will conclude its closing statements today.