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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Court needs to level with civil "parties," scholar says

Court needs to level with civil "parties," scholar says

I had the opportunity to attend the Rutgers Law event in early April I posted about previously, but have not had the chance until now to write about it. After a keynote speech from activist Theary Seng, several law students presented papers specifically addressing issues at the ECCC.

I was particularly interested in the paper presented by Andrew Diamond -- "Victims Once Again? Civil Party Participation Before the ECCC."

Throughout the first trial, there was a clear and constant tension between the responsibility to represent civil parties in court and the need to conduct an efficient trial. The process was nowhere near as streamlined or organized as it could have been. With the court’s second case looming, and a dramatically larger pool of civil parties demanding representation, the court felt it had to alter the rules of participation.

Yet, Diamond argued, in the court’s most recent proposal, “civil parties would have been gutted.”  Even after negotiation, he worries the court is only “paying lip service” to civil party participation and, in fact, civil parties are no longer true parties to proceedings.

Key rights have been curtailed by recent changes, he said, such as the right to counsel, as civil parties have been lumped in one group and will be represented by only two co-lawyers. Moreover, no dispute mechanism has been provided for and civil parties do not have the power to fire their lawyers.

If the ECCC is to be honest with victims, it must tell them that they are no longer true civil parties, he concluded. While the court may operate an advanced witness participation program, as has been done in other tribunals, Diamond believes it is dishonest to tell people that they are full and equal parties before the ECCC.

This is a pretty controversial claim, considering that civil parties were once touted as one of the most innovative and progressive elements of the ECCC.

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