Phnom Penh, Cambodia — The last two surviving leaders of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge regime still on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity issued their final defence Thursday at the United Nations-backed tribunal in Phnoom Penh.
Nuon Chea, formerly Pol Pot’s Brother Number Two, and Khieu Samphan, the former head of state, said they were not responsible for the crimes that occurred under the regime.
Both men tried to distance themselves from the deaths of over 1.7 million people who died during their rule from 1975 to 1978.
After seizing Phnom Penh in April 1975, the Khmer Rouge forced an estimated 1 million people out of the capital, forcing them into the countryside in an attempt to create a communist agrarian utopia.
The regime was overthrown by a 1979 Vietnamese invasion, by which time nearly 2 million people were dead from starvation, medical neglect, slave-like working conditions, and execution.
“It is easy to say that I should have known everything, I should have understood everything, and thus I could have intervened or rectified the situation at the time,” Khieu Samphan defiantly told the court. “Do you really think that that was what I wanted to happen to my people?”
“The reality was that I did not have any power,” he said.
Nuon Chea also defended his actions, saying he never ordered Khmer Rouge cadres “to mistreat or kill people to deprive them of food or commit any genocide,” according to reports.
Nuon Chea did accept “moral responsibility” for the deaths, but tried to distance himself from any actual crimes.
“I would like to sincerely apologize to the public, the victims, the families, and all Cambodian people,” he said. “I wish to show my remorse and pray for the lost souls that occurred by any means” during the Khmer Rouge rule.
“He is just trying to cheat the court so that he can be freed,” said a 56-year-old woman who lost 11 relatives during the Khmer Rouge rule. “If he issued no orders to kill people, his subordinates would not have killed.”
Death and disability have robbed the tribunal of other top leaders. Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died last March, and his wife Ieng Thirith, the regime’s social affairs minister, was declared unfit for trial in September 2012 due to being diagnosed with dementia. The top leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998.
Launched in 2006, the tribunal has thus far convicted only one defendant, Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment in 2011.
Nuon Chea claimed that, “in short, I am innocent.”
Khieu Samphan complained bitterly that “no matter how hard I try to explain, they (the court’s judges) will only turn their deaf ears at me.”
“It is clear that everyone wants only one thing from me — that is, my admission of guilt … concerning the acts that I have never ever committed at all”.
A verdict is not expected in the case until the first half of next year, more than two years after the trial began. Photo: EPA/indian.ruvr.ru