The historic Khmer Rouge tribunal wrapped-up its initial hearings in Case 002 this week, winning widespread praise for its conduct, as a legal strategy emerged for defending Pol Pot’s surviving lieutenants against charges relating to the deaths of up to 2.2 million Cambodians.
Absent were the sometimes shrill cries over investigations surrounding potential future trials and allegations of political interference that had dogged recent weeks at the Extraordinary Chambers for the Courts in Cambodia (ECCC).
Instead, a steady and methodical (at times tedious) legal process emerged as a full bench of International and Cambodian judges, the defence, prosecution and civil parties set about trying senior Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity allegedly committed between April 1975 and January 1979.
‘The court officials were all very professional throughout the proceedings from what we’ve seen,’ says Leakhena Nou, Executive Director of the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (ASRIC).
ASRIC represents US-based survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime and has had 41 civil parties admitted to Case 002, who Leakhena Nou said were akin to ambassadors in representing at least 150,000 Cambodian-Americans, and many more of Khmer heritage living around the world.
‘Justice doesn’t fall into your lap. You have to fight for justice,’ she says.
Her sentiments were echoed by prosecutors and legal counsel for former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, his wife Ieng Thirith, and the former head of state Khieu Samphan. The three surprised observers and a consistently packed public gallery by cooperating with the court.
However, counsel for Noun Chea told a post-hearing media briefing that they and their client weren’t happy with the tribunal, and that a lack of transparency in the initial hearing was a matter of grave concern and might seriously endanger the purpose of the trial.
Brother No 2’s defence is headed by Dutchman Michiel Pestman, who complained that his preliminary objections had been ignored by the court. He included a list of 300 witnesses the defence wants to testify in public about the alleged war crimes.
‘It’s like reading one page of a history book and tearing the rest out,’ he said on the lawns of the ECCC.
He added that former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger – who played a pivotal role during the Indochinese wars that preceded the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power – was on the list of 300 that Nuon Chea wanted to call and have testify in public at the ECCC.
But Kissinger’s name wasn’t on a shortlist of 15 people presented to the court, whose names must remain confidential, and that will form the basis of their defence.