One of four former leaders of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime to be tried for genocide next month gave notice Wednesday that he will not testify.
Ieng Sary, the regime's 86-year-old former foreign minister, notified the U.N.-backed tribunal that he will not testify or submit to cross-examination. The tribunal is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died of starvation, exhaustion, lack of medical care or execution under Khmer Rouge rule in the late 1970s.
Ieng Sary's Cambodian lawyer, Ang Udom, said his client would cooperate completely with the trial but planned not to testify in order to help the proceedings move faster.
The trial of Ieng Sary and three former colleagues on charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide, religious persecution, homicide and torture is scheduled to begin Nov. 21.
Ieng Sary has the legal right to remain silent, but his decision will hurt efforts to have the trial help illuminate the dark chapter in Cambodia's history.
"It is a fundamental human right that any defendant in criminal proceedings has the right to remain silent, and cannot be compelled to testify against himself," said Lars Olsen, a tribunal spokesman.
Testimony by former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, the tribunal's first defendant, shed light on the group's atrocities. He was sentenced last year to 35 years in prison for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offenses, mostly in connection with his supervision of a torture center from which an estimated 16,000 inmates were taken to be executed.
On Monday, lawyers for another defendant filed a complaint accusing Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen of interfering in the proceedings.
Two lawyers for Nuon Chea, the No. 2 Khmer Rouge leader, alleged in the criminal complaint at Phnom Penh Municipal Court that Hun Sen and others in the government had blocked some witnesses from testifying and interfered with the defendants' right to a fair trial.
The lawyers on Wednesday filed a motion with the tribunal seeking to have the start of the trial put off until the criminal complaint is heard. The tribunal issued no immediate reaction to the request.
Previous similar challenges on side issues have failed to affect the proceedings.
Keo Ramy, a spokesman for Cambodia's Cabinet, said the government has not interfered in the tribunal's work and that Nuon Chea's lawyers are just carrying out a delaying tactic.