News / Asia

Cambodian Tribunal Ends First Trial in Key Khmer Rouge Case

Nuon Chea, who was the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, waits before his final statements at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.
Nuon Chea, who was the Khmer Rouge's chief ideologist and No. 2 leader, waits before his final statements at the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Robert Carmichael
— Thursday marked the conclusion of the first portion of the trial involving two surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement. While prosecutors have asked the judges to hand down a life sentence for both men, the two defense teams say their clients should be acquitted and released. An estimated two million Cambodians died from harsh conditions imposed by the Khmer Rouge government in the 1970's.  
 
Both elderly defendants addressed the court Thursday as the first part of their lengthy trial wrapped up in Phnom Penh. Their defense teams have portrayed the case against them as a show trial with a predetermined outcome.
 
Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two for his position as deputy to the late Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, argued he had not received a fair trial and he had nothing to do with the crimes that formed the basis of this case.
 
The 87-year-old’s words are spoken by the court’s interpreter:
 
 “Through this trial it is clearly indicated that I was not engaged in any commission of the crimes as alleged by the co-prosecutors. In short, I am innocent in relation to those allegations,” said Chea.
 
In remarks lasting more than an hour, a wheelchair-bound Nuon Chea said he loved his people and would not have allowed them to suffer. The mass killings, starvation and overwork of the population was, he insisted, largely the work of Vietnamese and American agents who had sought to undermine the revolution.
 
Nuon Chea insisted he wielded no executive authority under the Democratic Kampuchea regime, and only learned the truth of those years after 1979.
 
“Nonetheless, I would like to express my deepest remorse and moral responsibility to all victims and Cambodian people who suffered during the Democratic Kampuchea regime,” said Chea.
 
At the start of the case, two years ago, the judges divided the complex indictment, which includes charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, into a series of mini-trials.
 
This first mini-trial has heard evidence about three alleged crimes: the forced evacuation of Phnom Penh in April 1975 when the Khmer Rouge took power; further forced movements of people around the country over the next two years; and a mass execution in 1975 of hundreds of soldiers and officials from the defeated Lon Nol government.
 
Regarding to the specific charges in this first mini-trial, Nuon Chea’s defense lawyer, Victor Koppe, told VOA that the decision to order the evacuation of Phnom Penh was done for military and practical reasons, and lacked criminal intent.
 
“The crimes that were allegedly committed during the evacuation of Phnom Penh, there was… no policy underlying to have that done. Obviously they wanted these people to move to cooperatives to work there and to produce as much rice as possible, so there was no intent of having these people killed somehow,” argued Koppe.
 
Nuon Chea’s defense also holds that later mass movements of people were done at the behest of regional officials, not the leaders. Koppe said the third charge - the 1975 massacre of soldiers and officials - was the consequence of local cadres taking revenge and was not a policy of the regime. Consequently, he has called for his client to be acquitted and released.
 
Lawyers for fellow defendant Khieu Samphan portrayed their client as a man who joined the revolution with the best of intentions and who was duped.
 
International prosecutor William Smith, who in court derided Khieu Samphan’s stance as “the only man in all of Cambodia who knew nothing, saw nothing, and heard nothing,” rejects the contention that the two defendants did not receive a fair trial.
 
Smith says numerous documents show the Khmer Rouge had a policy to kill former members of the defeated Lon Nol regime, and that policy came from the top. As for forcibly evicting the entire population of Phnom Penh, Smith argues that considering the circumstances of the move, the leadership must have known that many would die.
 
“Our view is that to force the population to leave without any preparations, at no notice, in the hottest month of the year; they knew that a certain amount of the population would die. Even if they didn’t want the whole population to die, they knew that would happen. I mean, it’s only common sense,” said Smith.
 
The prosecution estimates 20,000 people died in the two forced movements of population alone.
 
“So when we’re looking at numbers, let’s just say thousands at the very least, when we’re looking at thousands of people intentionally killed by leaders who were the architects of that plan and they had the control of the manner and method in which people were forced out into the countryside, and they had control of the policy which encouraged Khmer Rouge cadres to kill former Lon Nol officers and soldiers, that a life sentence is the minimum that they should give,” argued Smith.
 
The verdict in the first mini-trial is expected next year.
 
A second mini-trial - whose start date has yet to be announced - will examine allegations of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity in a bid to ensure that the court assesses a range of charges more representative of the Cambodian people’s suffering under what the prosecution has characterized as a slave state.
 
An estimated 2 million people died from execution, starvation, disease and overwork during the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975 to 1979.

You May Like

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Open Source Seeds Hit the Market, Raise Awareness

First open source seeds include 29 new varieties of broccoli, celery, kale, quinoa and other vegetables and grains More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid