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.
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

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
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.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs