Khmer Rouge official on appeal denies any complicity in genocide
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) – The last living member of the entourage of former Cambodian leader Pol Pot has denied any complicity in the genocide committed under the brutal Khmer Rouge government, telling an international tribunal on Thursday to hear his appeal that he was judged as an agent of the whole of the radical communist regime.
Speaking slowly and deliberately, Khieu Samphan, 90, told the tribunal of Cambodian and international judges in a final statement to end his appeal for a 2018 verdict that he had “categorically denied” his participation in the genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.
“The trial chamber has demonstrated its inability to judge me impartially,” he said as he read his statement. “It is clear that through me the chamber was aimed more at the Communist Party of Kampuchea.”
Khieu Samphan, was the former head of state of the Khmer Rouge, the name commonly used by the PCK, which ruled Cambodia with an iron fist from 1975 to 1979 and was responsible for the deaths of around 1, 7 million people.
During the four-day hearing in the Cambodian capital, his defense team argued that the 2018 verdict should be overturned, alleging procedural failures in the initial trial in extraordinary chambers of Cambodian courts and questioning evidence against their client.
Khieu Samphan was convicted primarily under the principle of joint criminal enterprise, under which individuals can be held accountable for the acts of the group to which they belong.
In her final argument, defense lawyer Anta Guissé reiterated her claim that the argument that her client “could not know” as a key member of the Khmer Rouge government was not sufficient to deal with the burden of proof.
But prosecutor Brenda Hollis argued that the evidence showed Khieu Samphan publicly supported and promoted Khmer Rouge policy and was present at major planning meetings.
“When he was at these meetings he was there as a top CPK leader – he had the opportunity to object,” Hollis told the court. “Instead, he supported in meetings, either by silent ascension or active support, decisions relating to criminal policies and their implementation. “
Under Pol Pot’s leadership, the Khmer Rouge sought to wipe out all traces of what they saw as corrupt bourgeois life, destroying most religious, financial and social institutions and forcing millions to leave the cities to live. in the countryside.
Dissent has typically resulted in death in the notorious “death fields” or elsewhere, while starvation, overwork and medical neglect have claimed many more lives.
It wasn’t until an invasion of Vietnam finally ousted the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979 that the scale of the killings really became known.
After being ousted from power in 1979, the Khmer Rouge waged a guerrilla war for another two decades before disintegrating. Pol Pot died in the jungle in 1998, and on Christmas Eve that year, Khieu Samphan visited with Nuon Chea, the movement’s chief ideologist.
Nuon Chea was seen as Pol Pot’s right-hand man, while head of state Khieu Samphan exhibited moderate polish as the public face of the top secret group.
Nuon Chea was sentenced alongside Khieu Samphan in 2018 and died the following year.
Khieu Samphan’s conviction in 2018 was largely linked to crimes committed against Vietnamese and Cham minorities in Cambodia.
The only other leader convicted by the panel was Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who, as head of the Khmer Rouge prison system, ran the infamous Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Penh. He died in 2020 while serving a life sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After the sentencing of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea in 2018, the government of autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a mid-level Khmer Rouge commander before defecting while the group was still in power, said no other case would go ahead, claiming they would cause instability. .
A verdict on Khieu Samphan’s appeal is not expected until next year, and even though the 2018 conviction is overturned, he is already serving a life sentence for a 2014 conviction for crimes against the humanity linked to forced transfers and mass disappearances. This conviction was confirmed on appeal in 2016.
“No matter what you decide, I will die in prison,” Khieu Samphan said as he finished his nearly 20-minute statement in court.
Increase reported from Bangkok.