Witness: ‘I was a good person’

By: Rebecca Moss

The former head of Cheang Tong commune reflected on questions of morality under the Khmer Rouge regime on her second and final day of testimony before the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.

“Personally, I believed I was good,” Khoem Boeun told the court. Once the assistant secretary of Tram Kak district, Boeun, 72, alias Yeay Boeun, still wears her black hair cropped above her chin in the radical communist regime’s fashion.

Goodness, she explained, when pressed by Nuon Chea defender Victor Koppe, referred to her ability to organise the people in her commune, and to provide them with food. Boeun claimed she even sporadically hid rice in pagodas to provide for her commune, though this violated instruction from the upper echelons.

“I never sanctioned or disciplined anyone who stole food,” she said, explaining that thieves were merely “re-educated” and told: “‘If you were hungry, I myself was also hungry.’”

Boeun told the court that while people grew ill from malnourishment, no one in her community ever died from starvation.

“I had generosity” she said, adding, “of course I cannot recall every event”.

Boeun also claimed she had never acted as a messenger for the regime nor issued arrest orders. Documents requesting militia to make arrests were presented in court, and while her name was written at the bottom of these pages, Boeun said others had acted in her stead as she was frequently caring for children, pregnant women and the ill.

Boeun was also questioned about references to kam tick, meaning “to smash or destroy”, on several documents also bearing her name, but said the word meant only to “cleanse” – by “getting rid of old ideas or concepts and building a new one” – or to “arrest”.

The witness was also pressed on the 12 revolutionary principles she had lived by during the regime. But Boeun claimed she could no longer recall their scope, though she affirmed that sex outside marriage was considered immoral, as was drinking alcohol.

The trial will resume with a new witness on Thursday.