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Defending Duch's obedience

Francois Roux, the lawyer defending former S-21 head Duch.

Lawyer Francois Roux on why Duch must not be a ‘scapegoat' and his interest in the fact obedience is not always a virtue

When will Duch's trial take place?
I do not have the answer. In principle, there is a trial management meeting in January, an initial hearing in February, then we hope that the trial will begin in March.

Jacques Verges recently told German news magazine Der Spiegel that the case of Khieu Samphan, Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith "will not even come to trial because the tribunal in Phnom Penh has already gambled away its credibility and legitimacy". Will Duch be the only one to carry the can?
It is out of the question for Duch to become the scapegoat for the Cambodian tragedy. He has to be judged for what he has done, not for the whole tragedy. When his trial opens, nobody will be able to say that there will be no other trials.

You campaigned for the setting up of international criminal tribunals. Experiencing the ECCC in Phnom Penh, do you still believe in international justice?
There are problems here due to the Cambodian situation and the specificity of the mixed tribunal, but it is a boon, too, for international justice. If we take up these specific challenges, they will be a precious contribution to knowledge about international justice. I think that international justice improves despite its difficulties. Who would have believed that many former heads of state would have been put in detention? And for instance, who would have believed that the former prime minister of Rwanda, who played an important part in the former government, would be put on trial? To the cynic who would say that international justice is powerless and incapable, I would answer: Look at the results.

But the pace of justice here seems slow to the public.
I would be the first one to denounce the prosecutors' appeal on Duch's case! But we can note that Duch has been in the ECCC's jail for one year and four months. When his trial will begin, it will be one year and eight months. Compare it to the so-called "Butare's trial" at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which lasted eight years - after the accused had been remanded in custody for four years. However, and of course, we continue to challenge the fact that Duch has been kept in pretrial detention for almost ten years.

For more than 35 years, you have defended people who acted in the name of civil disobedience. Why do you defend Duch, who personifies, in your expression, "servile obedience"?
I have been interested for a long time in the idea that obedience is not always a virtue. And about authority, too, about Milgram's experiment, for instance. The French author Georges Bernanos wrote that "a free people is a people undisciplined". Civil disobedience is written in the law. Therefore, it does not concern only activists. I was led to go from one extreme to the other. This is not a coincidence. And this is a unique human experience. We attain the notion of humanity.

Do you really think that Duch was just obedient ?
The one who obeys a criminal order - here starts his responsibility. We, the defenders of Duch, are trying to understand how it happened, how it worked, of what he is guilty and if he has any mitigating circumstances. The usual work of lawyers in such extreme cases is to find how to bring a man accused of the most serious crimes back into the human community.

Who are your guides in this case?
Kar Savuth, Duch's Cambodian lawyer, who was prisoner of the Khmer Rouge and who put on his lawyer's robe saying that a lawyer should defend everybody in the same way that a doctor cures everybody. I think also of the former president of the bar of Montpellier in France, Jacques Lafont, who was a former prisoner in the Buchenwald concentration camp and defended French collaborationists against the death sentence.

There is no doubt that Duch, who pleads guilty, will be condemned. So what will be the interest of his trial for the Cambodian people?
The great novelty, the major thing, will be to hear Duch's voice. There will be no scoop but rectifications, details, new lights cast. Today, what do you know about what Duch says? Nothing. What do you know about what he has become 30 years later? Nothing. What do you know about what the victims will tell to Duch? What do you know about what he will say to them?

Do you want this trial to act as a form of education ?
The questions of the victims are legitimate. A trial has to bring the beginning of answers. Our educational work began during the investigation with the reconstruction at S-21 and Choeung Ek. It was a major judicial act which honours the judges. It has been very badly reported because of the communications problems of the tribunal, but it was very important for the case and for its symbolism: The time of justice is characterised by bringing back Duch to S-21. He has come back with the judges. That is the catharsis of justice: to understand what happened. You will know during the trial what happened during this reconstruction and what was said. The main thing is that after the trial we can all say: ‘Justice has been done'.

Interview by Anne-Laure Porée



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