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At Tribunal, American Witness Describes 1978 Khmer Rouge

Youk Chhang, Elizabeth Becker and Michael ABRAMOWITZ, USHMM Director and his delegations at a B52 bomb pond near the Chinese airport, Kampong Chhnang province. Oct 24, 2012. Photo by Nhean Socheat.

American journalist and author Elizabeth Becker gave her first day of testimony at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday, describing a rare visit to the country under the regime’s control in 1978.

Becker described a dinner she had in December that year with the regime’s foreign minister, Ieng Sary, and described the “self isolation” of the regime.

“There was no communication, no cable, no telephone,” she said. “Nothing.”

Becker is testifying as a witness in the tribunal case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, who are facing charges of atrocity crimes, including genocide, for their leadership roles in the regime.

Becker’s testimony offers a rare glimpse at the secretive regime through the critical eye of a journalist. Journalists were typically not allowed to see the closed regime, and going there offered a glimpse of life under the Khmer Rouge—though only a glimpse.

Becker told the court Monday she was not allowed to walk around and had to be escorted in a car. She met with Pol Pot and traveled to some provinces, she said. “But everything was prepared.”

“We could not move without someone escorting us,” she said. “I’ve never been on a trip like that in my life, where every move was controlled.”