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Victims in limelight on day of ‘justice’

Buddhist monks attend the first day of closing arguments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal
Buddhist monks attend the first day of closing arguments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. AFP

Victims in limelight on day of ‘justice’

Behind the thick windows of the Khmer Rouge tribunal trial chamber, before a gallery packed with students, monks, observers and villagers, civil party lawyers yesterday opened closing arguments in Case 002/01 with a lengthy and impassioned indictment of the trial’s co-defendants, often borrowing the words of their very victims.

Over the course of some six hours, the representatives systematically rebutted defendants’ claims made throughout the trial, taking liberally from testimony by civil parties themselves, and even at times pointing the finger directly at Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan during the day in which – as lead co-lawyer Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort put it – the victims were “in the limelight”.

“In a trial, defendants have rights, and quite rightly so,” Simonneau-Fort said. “Today, we are living a key moment in international justice, and it’s a very important moment in the trial as well, because for an entire day it is the victims who are in the limelight. It is their rights that are fundamental, that are being highlighted and protected.”

That limelight was first cast on the stories of those who suffered in the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh – and the evacuations that followed, as people were shifted around the country like pieces of equipment – movements that stemmed from an overarching Khmer Rouge policy drafted with input from Chea and Samphan, lawyer Hong Kim Suon argued.

“Once the [Communist Party of Kampuchea] gained full control of Cambodian territory with the fall of Phnom Penh and other provincial capitals to their troops, they uniformly applied a policy of forced evacuations from urban areas to rural cooperatives,” Kim Suon said.

“In addition to the suffering and harm experienced by victims because of the forced transfers … the massive scale of the redistribution of the population and the lack of planning and coordination by the CPK resulted in famine, disease and death at the destination points,” he continued.

Sam Sokon continued to present the defendants with stories pulled from civil party testimony, such as that of a Cambodian man whose ethnic Vietnamese wife and six children were murdered as “enemies of the state”, and accused even Samphan – who has long maintained he was nothing but a figurehead – of inciting such acts.

“Khieu Samphan, in his capacity as head of state, induced for action against the enemies of the state,” Sokon said. “He said in the Revolutionary Flag [magazine] that actions had to be carried out at all levels.”

The accusations reached a crescendo as civil party lawyer Christine Martineau dug into her statement, which she delivered directly to the accused, at times confronting them with their own words and accusing them of deceiving the court and their victims.

“Mr Khieu Samphan, you pose as a victim of the regime you belonged to for many years,” Martineau said. “Your goal during that regime was to save your own life, and you succeeded by the way . . . [but], Mr Khieu Samphan, be realistic. The facts are there. You are before a court. When we listen to the civil parties, we see that you are more than a puppet president.

“[Both of] you followed Pol Pot to his last days,” she continued. “Who do you think you would convince by evading your true responsibilities?… You use your preferred weapons – secrecy, deceit – to protect yourselves.”

It was in the afternoon session that the theme of civil party participation – its aims, and the difficulties faced in even implementing it – was summed up by lead co-lawyer Simonneau-Fort.

“This trial is perhaps not exactly what we wanted it to be,” Simonneau-Fort said. “We have lost two accused, months have gone by, and we have lost victims and civil parties.

“So these proceedings may make it impossible to try other facts than the forced transfer and [the execution site at] Tuol Po Chrey,” she continued, alluding to the defendants’ advanced age. “They’re a kind of risk we willingly accepted to take, and as I see it, we were right to do so.”

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