The former Khmer Rouge commander and current Prey Sar inmate who reluctantly testified before the tribunal yesterday is no stranger to courts of law.
In domestic courts, witness Chhouk Rin, 60, had twice appealed his life sentence for involvement in a 1994 Khmer Rouge train ambush in which 13 were killed and dozens taken hostage, and the murder two months later of three Western tourists among the hostages.
In 2005, the Kingdom’s Supreme Court upheld Rin’s conviction on charges of terrorism, kidnapping and murder.
His subsequent imprisonment, Rin asserted before the tribunal yesterday, had left him in such poor health that he did not feel able to properly give testimony.
“You know my health is not very good, and the food ration offered to me in the prison is not very good. And I have problems with my eyesight,” Rin said, noting that he had sent the court a letter asking to be relieved of his duty to testify until his health had improved, but the letter had gone unanswered.
Rin – who in 2010 asked for a royal pardon on the grounds that he was seriously ill with AIDS, malaria and liver disease – yesterday complained of throat problems and a lack of energy, and rather energetically and lengthily argued that the court must help him obtain better food and medical care before he could testify.
Trial Chamber president Nil Nonn told Rin that after receiving his letter, the court had decided he must still testify due to his importance as a witness and no evidence of illness would impede his testimony.
But Rin still refused to answer questions, saying he was too tired and confused.
“Chhouk Rin, you have been speaking now for almost one hour,” said judge Silvia Cartwright. “And in that time, we might have been able to hear some useful information from you. So I am asking you to stop wasting time.”
“It is obvious to us and to everyone in the courtroom,” noted Victor Koppe, defence counsel for Nuon Chea, “that this witness is a hard bargainer”.
Calling Rin a “hostile witness”, international co-prosecutor Keith Raynor proposed to read from Rin’s previous statements and ask Rin to simply confirm or deny.
In response to several such questions, Rin responded simply: “Continue reading.”
By late morning, however, Rin had begun affirming statements and correcting dates. By the afternoon, he was giving lengthy, if not always on-point, answers.
Speaking about frequent purges within the Khmer Rouge ranks, he told the court: “We lower level cadres, once we got into it, could not get out . . . We were a tool used by the party.”
Throughout the day, Rin pointed to Chea as a chief instigator of the party’s actions.
“Nuon Chea during the old days ordered me to do things ... I was afraid I would be killed if I did not do,” Rin said, asking the court not to similarly pressure him by forcing him to testify.
Asserting that he would be entirely willing to answer questions if it were not for his health concerns, Rin told the court, “As a former Khmer Rouge commander, I would never withdraw from this moment: I am still as brave. I am not a person like Nuon Chea, who is not [admitting he is] responsible for what he has done.”