The defence counsel for Khmer Rouge second-in-command Nuon Chea launched into its closing statements today, questioning the prosecution’s narrative and attacking the integrity of the court itself.
Defence lawyer Liv Sovanna accused the tribunal of “simply repeating the Manichean narrative” – first promoted by Vietnamese propaganda – that the Khmer Rouge were an evil regime, and ignoring what the defence characterises as the group’s legitimate motivations for taking many of the actions it did.
“This Manichean narrative has had a massive influence on this tribunal,” Sovanna said, claiming the narrative began as an overly simplistic effort at international damage control by the invading Vietnamese, and accusing the judges of accepting that version of events as truth before the trial began.
Victor Koppe, the international defence lawyer for Nuon Chea, repeated this belief, and claimed the tribunal has been inverted to place the burden of proof on the defence teams.
“The co-prosecutors hope to avoid responsibility to prove their case and shift it to the defence. And so far, they have gotten away with it … It has always seemed that there is an assumption that their case is true,” Koppe said.
The defence team did express pleasure that charges of extermination in the previous Case 02/001 were overturned in their appeal, but Koppe said “the pressure is now greater than ever for this chamber to finally function like a proper court”.
Continuing to criticise the court’s functions, Koppe said he only found out recently that it took more than a year for his closing statements in the previous trial to be translated in Khmer.
“Are you not somehow offended by this?” Koppe asked the trial chamber president, Cambodian Judge Nil Nonn, calling it a “shameless display of neo-colonialism”.
The defence lawyer went on to say if his statements weren’t translated in a timelier manner this time around, “it will be one of our very first appeal grounds”.
Koppe then got to the business of countering the prosecution’s narrative itself, attempting to establish that the Khmer Rouge’s Cambodia was a nation facing an “existential” threat from an “imperialist” Vietnam.
Koppe’s contention that Vietnam was attempting to seize control of Cambodia went hand in hand with his next point, that the Khmer Rouge leadership was deeply fractured and powerful regional leaders committed crimes autonomously and without the knowledge or approval of the central leaders.
Koppe claimed there were three separate coup attempts between 1975 and 1979, all orchestrated by a “traitorous network” against the “legitimate government”, and all supported by the Vietnamese.
According to the defence, among these Vietnamese-backed conspirators were current Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
“The prosecution would have you believe that information flowed smoothly from the bottom, and orders flowed smoothly from the top. In truth, however, the [Khmer Rouge] was always internally divided,” Koppe said.
Here, he paused to address the international co-prosecutor’s assertion that Pol Pot, along with Nuon Chea and his co-defendant Khieu Samphan, made up a “gang of three” that controlled all central policy making during the regime.
Samphan’s team has long argued that the former head of state was not aware of central Khmer Rouge policies, a claim Koppe supported yesterday.
“What was said yesterday about Khieu Samphan being a member of the ‘gang of three’ was completely ridiculous, please do not pay any attention to it,” he said.
“The international co-prosecutor’s argument is basically that there is a [joint criminal enterprise] in our cause because Pol Pot, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan ate their breakfast together,” Koppe added later.
Defence consultant Doreen Chen presented on three of four security centres where crimes against humanity allegedly took place, claiming that in all three examples the prosecution has not provided evidence that the crimes took place beyond a reasonable doubt.
Chen also argued that only one document from the Kraing Ta Chan Security Centre was ever authenticated.
“This is a key example of what my colleague Victor Koppe discussed earlier today, and that is that there is an assumption that the prosecution’s case is true and does not need to be proven,” she said.
“This cannot fly in a proper court of law,” Chen added.
Koppe will continue the defence’s closing statements by presenting on crimes alleged to have taken place at S-21 on Monday.