Former head of state Khieu Samphan told the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday that he was less responsible for the Khmer Rouge’s activities than Prime Minister Hun Sen.
In the first of four days of “victim impact hearings”, the court focused on civil parties’ statements about suffering they had endured under the Khmer Rouge but also allowed civil parties to ask questions of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, the remaining defendants in Case 002.
The court had held similar hearings during the trial of former S-21 prison director Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, but yesterday’s were the first such hearings for the present trial.
Responding to a civil party’s question as to why so much suffering occurred under the regime, Khieu Samphan rose and spoke at length.
“First of all, I would like to inform you that I am not the Khmer Rouge, and I cannot bear responsibility for those accusations,” said Samphan.
“Let me give you an example. In the case of Mr Hun Sen, will he be [held] responsible for the actions committed by the Khmer Rouge?”
The current ruling party’s connections to the Khmer Rouge have come up in court before. But it was unusual for a defendant to stand up and speak at all, much less implicate the prime minister, who was an Eastern Zone commander under the Khmer Rouge before he fled to Vietnam.
“In my case,” Samphan went on, “it’s even further removed [than] Hun Sen’s instance. I did not know anything at all of what happened between 1975 and 1979.”
As he had done before, Samphan maintained he had known nothing about the killings and starvation under the regime because he spent those years at administrative offices in Phnom Penh.
He did acknowledge awareness of the move to abolish schools, stating that the lack of skilled Cambodians at the time would have made formal schooling ineffective.
“I wish to express my sympathy to you, to your suffering and your experience, and your loss of your parents, relatives and your beloved ones,” he added.
Personal loss was the common thread in the testimony of the four civil parties who spoke yesterday.
“I was by myself, without any support,” said Yos Phal, a policeman under the Lon Nol regime, echoing the sentiments the others recalled feeling after they saw their family members and friends die from starvation or killed by Khmer Rouge cadres.
These others had been, respectively, a mother of four, a young boy and a transgender woman when the Khmer Rouge evacuated them from their homes and forced them into hard labour.
Weeping, Sou Sotheavy, a transgender woman born a man, said she was raped, tortured and forced to marry a woman by the Khmer Rouge.
“Today, I am here to express my statement of suffering, and I am here to find justice,” she said. “I have been waiting for this moment for several years already.”
Sotheavy joined Phal in calling for “collective reparations” in the form of a library for books and records of the Khmer Rouge and a stupa to commemorate victims – two reparations that civil party lawyers have been requesting for some time.
Co-accused Nuon Chea declined to answer civil parties’ questions yesterday. Tribunal hearings are scheduled to resume on Wednesday.