“What I want to say today and what I want my countrymen to hear is that as an intellectual I have never wanted anything other than social justice for my country,” 84-year-old Khieu Samphan told a courtroom on Wednesday. “I shall shout loudly that I never wanted to agree to any policy that is against the Cambodian people.”
He described himself as a crusader against income inequality too, saying he wanted to establish “social equilibrium so there would not be too large a gap between the poor and the rich” in Cambodia, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Samphan is one of the highest-ranked surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, and the charge he is defending himself against with talk of “social justice” is genocide.
The UK Daily Mail notes that Samphan and 89-year-old Nuon Chea were convicted of crimes against humanity in 2014, based on their “pivotal role in the communist government that oversaw the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975-1979 – nearly one-quarter of the population.”
They still face trial for additional charges of what courts would describe as ethnic cleansing today, murdering some 20,000 Vietnamese and 500,000 Muslims, as well as using forced marriage and rape.
The most familiar culprit in these crimes, “Brother Number One” Pol Pot, died in 1998, before he could be brought to justice.
Samphan has employed a number of other legal strategies to appeal his conviction, including accusing the judges of prejudice against him, claiming his position in the Khmer Rouge regime was largely ceremonial, describing himself as a “victim of circumstance and ideological naivete,” and claiming various procedural errors in his trial, according to the Phnom Penh Post.
Voice of America has details on some other cases processed by the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, noting that the tribunals are pushing for clear decisions and expedited outcomes, in part because both the accused and surviving victims have aged so much.
Actress and director Angelina Jolie is preparing a movie about the Cambodian genocide for Netflix, titled First They Killed My Father, which involved re-creating the Khmer Rouge takeover of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. The Sydney Morning Herald describes the recreation as accurate enough to give older residents of the city nightmares.
Jolie, whose adopted son Maddox is from Cambodia, said her movie would be “hard to watch but important to see.” The same could be said of the trials for the last surviving Khmer Rouge butchers.