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Civil parties want to make opening statement

Lawyers representing civil parties at the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Wednesday filed an "urgent request" that they be allowed 45 minutes to make an opening statement when the court's upcoming Case 002/02 begins on October 17.

The filing, distributed yesterday, notes that the civil parties – despite being "a full party to the proceedings" under the court's internal rules – have never been granted the opportunity to make an opening statement before the court, and asserts that the unique role and requirements of the bloc of victim-participants warrants such consideration.

In the past, similar requests have been denied by the trial chamber on the grounds that there is no explicit provision giving civil parties the right to such a statement, as there is for the prosecution and defence.

But while the prosecution, whom the civil party lawyers support, are tasked with representing the "general interests of society," the civil party lawyers are "charged with the specific mandate to 'represent the interests of the consolidated group of civil parties,'" the filing contends.

As such, "The Lead Co-Lawyers seek to secure an opportunity to speak at the beginning of trial precisely because the Civil Parties play a distinct role and have interests in these proceedings that go beyond the 'general interests' of the public, instead being focused on the specific interests of civil parties."

In their opening remarks, the civil party lawyers had hoped to discuss the composition of the group they represent, their plans for participating in the upcoming trial and the "unique perspective and contributions" they intend to bring to proceedings.

However, Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said yesterday that since the upcoming hearing had more to do with the evidence and accusations against the accused, an opening statement from the civil parties wasn't strictly necessary.

"The civil parties are considered to be parties to the proceedings, but in this case, [their statement] is going to be [about] collective and symbolic reparations – it's not about genocide and war crimes in Case 002/02, not whether [the accused] are guilty or not guilty," he said. "So I think the prosecutor is representing them in that regard."

In a separate announcement yesterday, the French Embassy said that it would be donating some $80,000 to the organisation Legal Aid of Cambodia to finance its continuing representation of a number of civil parties at the trial.

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