Parties locked horns yesterday at the Khmer Rouge tribunal as Nuon Chea defender Victor Koppe cross-examined expert witness Alexander Hinton, challenging the academic’s contention that anti-Vietnamese rhetoric under Democratic Kampuchea was evidence of genocide.
Hinton, author of Why Did They Kill?, had previously testified on the role of Khmer Rouge ideology in the perpetration of genocide.
The alleged genocide of ethnic Vietnamese and the Cham ethnic minority are key charges against former Democratic Kampuchea head of state Khieu Samphan and “brother number two” Nuon Chea in the ongoing Case 002/02.
In the morning session, Koppe presented Hinton with evidence of China, Indonesia and the US’s perceptions of Vietnam’s foreign policy, which suggested the Khmer Rouge regime’s fears of Vietnam as a credible threat were justified.
Prosecutor William Smith objected, however, saying that questioning Hinton on matters of foreign policy was irrelevant and outside of the scope of his testimony, a position seconded by civil party lead co-lawyer Marie Guiraud.
“We have heard Koppe tell us for the last day and a half that the expert is an anthropologist and therefore [he] should remain focused on his field of expertise,” Guiraud said.
“The actions of Vietnam, Vietnam being the external enemy, are incredibly important to having a full understanding as to how we should see the alleged treatment of the Vietnamese – one cannot be seen without the other,” Koppe rebutted.
The Nuon Chea defence has maintained that the regime’s treatment of ethnic Vietnamese was a response to legitimate concerns of Vietnamese aggression, and was not motivated by any desire for ethnic cleansing.
But before Koppe managed to get a response from Hinton, he was subjected to multiple objections over his style of questioning.
“Counsel should just ask the witness questions, not give speeches; this has happened a number of times today,” prosecutor Smith said.
Hinton, for his part, derided Koppe for his “series of decontextualised” and seemingly contradictory questions, ultimately responding that while the Khmer Rouge regime had fears of Vietnam, the rhetoric increased in “vehemence” as the war escalated.
“If you look at the course of the genocide against the ethnic Cham and . . . against ethnic Vietnamese, the element of racism was there from the beginning,” he said.
As for the Vietnamese-backed invasion that overthrew the regime, Hinton added, “you can’t simply say that the threats were reasonable the entire time; it’s an historical process . . . you have [Democratic Kampuchea] forces going into Vietnam and committing all sorts of atrocities, so there’s also provocation that played into this process”.
Hinton will conclude his testimony today after questioning from the Khieu Samphan defence.