A former leader of the Khmer Rouge said Wednesday that he will not testify during his long-awaited trial on charges of genocide at a U.N.-backed war tribunal, likely angering Cambodians who are hoping to get answers from him over the mass killings carried out during his bloody regime.
Ieng Sary, 86, and a former foreign minister of the Khmer Rouge regime, notified the court of his decision through a written statement.
“I have my legal team. I have received a notice of the charges against me …. I know my right to remain silent during the hearings,” he wrote.
“I voluntarily inform the court that I will not testify in response to any inquiries during the trial of Case 002,” the statement said.
Neth Pheaktra, spokesman for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which the tribunal is officially called, said Ieng Sary had acted in accordance with the court’s internal rules by refusing to take the stand when his case is tried on Nov. 21.
“Ieng Sary has the right to remain silent and not to respond to any inquiries. Even though he has refused to testify, he has his legal team to speak on his behalf,” Neth Pheaktra said.
The move is expected to frustrate Cambodians who are likely seeking closure to the Khmer Rouge era through an explanation by the former leader of what led to the mass killings.
Trial monitor Clair Duffy from the U.S.-based Open Society Justice Initiative said that Ieng Sary's silence would be "a disappointment" to Khmer Rouge survivors, Agence France-Presse reported.
"Cambodians generally come to the court to see these people and hear what they have to say," she said. "But the accused have a right not to say anything."
Request for delay
Ieng Sary is one of four defendants in the trial. The others are Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot’s former second-in-command Nuon Chea, 84, former head of state Khieu Samphan, 79, and Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith, 78, who was minister for social affairs.
The accused are charged with genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity for their role in overseeing the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians when the Khmer Rouge ruled from 1975-1979. All four deny the accusations.
Separately on Wednesday, Nuon Chea’s legal team has requested that the ECCC delay the hearing until it investigates allegations of political interference in the trial process.
His lawyers filed a lawsuit through a municipal court on Monday against Prime Minister Hun Sen and other members of the Cambodian government for “obstruction of justice.”
Foreign Minster Hor Namhong on Tuesday called the accusations by Noun Chea’s legal team “a joke to which the government need not respond.”
Neth Pheaktra said Wednesday that the allegations would not postpone the court process.
“At this point, no changes have been made. The hearing of Case 002 will proceed as scheduled on Nov. 21.”
The new developments mark the latest twist in a complex trial which seeks justice for some 1.7 million Cambodians who died during the Khmer Rouge era, but which has been dogged by rumors of corruption and inefficiency since it was established seven years ago.
Earlier this month, Siegfried Blunk, the tribunal's international co-investigating judge, resigned citing interference by Hun Sen's government, though several rights groups and Khmer Rouge victims had earlier demanded he step down for “bowing to political pressure” in his handling of the trial process.
On Tuesday, Rowan Downing and Katinka Lahuis, the two international judges on a tribunal chamber that rules on disputes while a case is still under investigation, listed a string of questionable actions by Siegfried Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng in a 12-page minority decision.
Downing and Lahuis said the two had backdated documents, inexplicably refused to recognize civil party lawyers, prevented civil party lawyers from accessing the case file despite repeated requests and, in so doing, denied victims the “fundamental right to legal representation.”
They also suggested that the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges had made many mistakes under the management of Blunk and You and should reconsider the two judges’ rejection of a civil party application by New Zealand national Robert Hamill. Hamill’s brother was tortured and murdered by the Khmer Rouge in 1978.
Last week, the U.N. Undersecretary General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O'Brien, visited Cambodia and urged the government to "refrain from interfering in any way whatsoever with the judicial process."
Hun Sen’s government has repeatedly denied any interference in the tribunal proceedings.
The ECCC has so far completed just one trial which led to the jailing last year of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, for 30 years for overseeing the deaths of thousands of people. His case is now under appeal.
Last month, the court divided the case against surviving Khmer Rouge leaders into a series of smaller cases in order to speed up proceedings.
Many of the defendants are elderly and infirm, and observers fear that not all of them will live to see a verdict.
Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre, and other Cambodian officials have often expressed opposition to any further prosecutions in the tribunal beyond the second trial.
Many do not expect the third and fourth cases to proceed.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.