By SOPHENG CHEANG and DAVID RISING, Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The final residing chief from the interior circle of Cambodia’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime launched his courtroom enchantment Monday, searching for to persuade a long-running worldwide tribunal to overturn his conviction on prices of genocide.
Khieu Samphan, 90, was the previous head of state for the Khmer Rouge, the novel communist regime that dominated Cambodia with an iron fist from 1975-1979 and was answerable for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million folks.
His protection group is searching for to overturn a 2018 verdict discovering him responsible of genocide, crimes towards humanity and warfare crimes, questioning the proof and arguing there have been procedural errors.
Kong Sam Onn instructed the judges of the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC, that his shopper had been given insufficient time to arrange an preliminary protection, and that the unique panel failed to supply the grounds for its ruling in a well timed trend, amongst different issues.
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“It should be null and void, and so I am requesting the Supreme Court chamber to … reverse the judgment,” he mentioned.
Khieu Samphan sat in a chair behind his attorneys, sporting a masks in compliance with COVID-19 precautions and showing to pay attention intently as they addressed the court docket. Kong Sam Onn mentioned his shopper would deal with the chamber on the finish of the 4 days of scheduled hearings.
Prosecutors in opening statements rejected the procedural arguments, whereas emphasizing the “totality” of the proof towards the defendant.
“Mr. Khieu Samphan fails to establish the assertion that underlies his entire appeal, that he knew nothing, saw nothing and heard nothing of the crimes for which he stands convicted,” mentioned prosecutor Chea Leang.
“In addition the defendant, Mr. Khieu Samphan, fails to establish that his conduct does not make him responsible for those crimes and contrary to the appellant’s assertions the evidence underlying his convictions is extensive diverse and compelling.”
Observers say it is unlikely that the conviction will likely be overturned, and even whether it is, the previous chief is already serving a life sentence after being convicted in 2014 of crimes towards humanity related with compelled transfers and disappearances of lots of individuals. That conviction was upheld on enchantment in 2016.
“The appeal hearing is quiet important for both sides, the Cambodian victims and the accused,” said tribunal spokesman, Neth Pheaktra.
The verdict won’t come until next year.
Under the leadership of the late Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge sought to eliminate all traces of what they saw as corrupt bourgeois life, destroying most religious, financial and social institutions, and forcing millions out of cities to live in the countryside.
Dissent was usually met with death in the Khmer Rouge’s notorious “killing fields” or elsewhere, while starvation, overwork and medical neglect took many more lives.
Only when an invasion by Vietnam finally drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979 did the magnitude of the killings become truly known.
Khieu Samphan’s 2018 conviction was largely connected to crimes committed against Vietnamese and Cham minorities in Cambodia.
He was found not guilty of genocide against the Cham, a Muslim ethnic minority whose members had put up a small but futile resistance against the Khmer Rouge, for lack of evidence. But he was found guilty of genocide of the Vietnamese under the principle of joint criminal enterprise, under which individuals can be held responsible for the actions of a group to which they belong.
His crimes against humanity conviction covered activities at work camps and cooperatives established by the Khmer Rouge. They included murder, extermination, deportation, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, persecution on political, religious and racial grounds, attacks on human dignity, forced marriages and rape.
He was “discovered to have inspired, incited, and legitimized felony insurance policies and to have made a major contribution to crimes dedicated” by the Khmer Rouge.
The breaches of the Geneva Convention governing war crimes included willful killing, torture and inhumane treatment.
During his trial, Khieu Samphan claimed the allegations against him were “Vietnamese propaganda” and said that while he had been aware of accusations of suffering under the Khmer Rouge, “the term murderer I categorically reject.”
After being ousted from power in 1979, the Khmer Rouge waged guerrilla warfare for another two decades before disintegrating. Pol Pot died in the jungle in 1998, and on Christmas Eve that year, Khieu Samphan surrendered along with Nuon Chea, the movement’s chief ideologue and its second-highest official.
Nuon Chea was convicted alongside Khieu Samphan in 2018 and died the following year.
The ECCC tribunal was established at Cambodia’s behest to bring to justice the leaders of the Khmer Rouge during its time in power.
Since the first judges and prosecutors took up their duties in 2006, however, the court has only successfully convicted three people in prosecutions that have cost some $300 million.
In addition to Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, the only other leader convicted 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 prison term for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
After the conviction of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea in 2018, the government of autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a midlevel Khmer Rouge commander before defecting while the group was still in power, declared no more cases would go forward, saying they would cause instability.
Human rights attorney Theary Seng, who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide herself but lost her parents, criticized the trials as “political theatre” where Hun Sen and others have been “allowed, backed with U.N. insignia, to try themselves.”
Still, she said she planned to attend the opening of the appeal to see the case against Khieu Samphan to its conclusion.
“I have forgiven Khieu Samphan, as I have no intention for revenge, but that is not the same as holding him responsible,” she told The Associated Press in an email.
“I hold Khieu Samphan directly responsible for the murders of my mom and dad, and for taking my childhood away from me in forcing me into a living hell.”
Rising reported from Bangkok
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