Crime & Justice

Last living Khmer Rouge leader defends innocence in final plea

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Aug 19 (EFE).- The last living Khmer Rouge leader Khieu Samphan defended his innocence Thursday in the final argument of his genocide conviction appeal, held in a court overseen by the United Nations in Cambodia, where his lawyers have tried to overturn his life sentence for four days.

“It does not matter what you decide or if I die in prison. I will die always remembering the suffering of my Cambodian people. I will die seeing that I am alone in front of you. I am judged symbolically more than for my acts as an individual,” Khieu Samphan told judges and prosecutors.

Samphan, 90, was sentenced in November 2018 along with Nuon Chea, or “Brother No. 2,” the ideologue of the Khmer Rouge, who died in August 2019 at 93 and with whom he also shared a life sentence for “crimes against humanity, extermination, political persecution and other inhumane acts.”

The court, created in 2006 with the official name of Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, began Monday sessions to hear the arguments of both parties, which ended Thursday, although the trial would continue until Aug. 27 if necessary.

In a serene tone and with some resignation, Samphan went over in a speech with nationalist overtones the accusations and convictions for killings against Vietnamese residents in Cambodia or members of the minority Cham ethnic group and denied his involvement in all of them.

His only concession was referring to the reproduction of his speeches from his time in power (1976-1979), in which he pointed to Vietnamese residents in Cambodia, attributing them to the war with Vietnam and his desire to protect the country against the invading army.

“The independence and territorial integrity of the borders were always my objective. My objective was not to encourage attacks against civilians,” he said during his speech, broadcast over the Internet by the court.

“At the end of this long case, it is important for me to inform them, especially the Cambodian people, that I have never wanted to commit a crime against my compatriots or against anyone else,” he said, criticizing what he thought was a lack of objectivity by the court.

The court, made up of Cambodian and foreign judges applying Cambodian and international laws, expects to issue its decision during the fourth quarter of 2022.

Due to the current restrictions against the Covid-19 pandemic, face-to-face assistance during the hearings in this court of public, media and diplomats has been limited.

The Khmer Rouge were responsible for the deaths of at least 1.7 million people, a third of the country, between 1975 and 1979 in Cambodia due to purges, famines and mistreatment during the Maoist regime of “Brother No. 1” Pol Pot.

Samphan, born in 1931 into a wealthy family, did a doctorate in Economics in Paris, writing an anti-capitalist thesis. He drew up the agrarian policy of the Khmer Rouge and ended the years as its intellectual voice, spokesperson and official representative, while still loyally following the organization’s leader.

He was sworn in as president of the Democratic Republic of Kampuchea in 1976, the year after the Khmer Rouge took power by force. EFE


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