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Doubt over KR trial’s scope

The Khmer Rouge tribunal resumed business as usual yesterday after a particularly rough stretch that saw delay after delay caused by illness, walkouts, challenges to the very scope of the trial and even the death of co-accused Ieng Sary.

Though the court spent the better part of the day hearing the testimony of Khmer Rouge military officer and security centre chief Chhaom Se, the hiccups, particularly the court’s annulment and subsequent reinstatement of the severance order delineating the scope of the charges in sub-trial Case 002/01, had left some lingering objections and confusion.

“Today, the trial is starting again, but we are still not availed of your grounds for your decision on severance,” said Khieu Samphan defence counsel Arthur Vercken, who objected to the resumption of hearings without a fully reasoned decision on the trial’s scope.

“This is something we protest against . . . you shouldn’t decide to start over again without having all parties understand this [decision].”

Prosecutor Vincent De Wilde also expressed some uncertainty about the trial’s scope.

“For clarification purposes, what are the limitations on the questions we can ask?  Can the chamber confirm which paragraphs are relevant to the trial as defined in your new decision on severance?” he asked.

Civil party lead co-lawyer Pich An also asked for paragraphs in the indictment relevant only to Ieng Sary be trimmed from the document, as similar ones were when co-defendant Ieng Thirith was ruled unfit to stand trial.

The Trial Chamber, for its part, responded somewhat ambiguously, with chamber president Nil Nonn saying there would be “no change” in scope from the previous severance order, but that “change may happen when the chamber needs to decide on how to proceed with the remaining matters”.

“And you may also be familiar that the national colleagues were facing a difficult situation and could not concentrate on their work without their pay . . . but now we are back on track,” Nonn said later.

“The reason the chamber had to issue its oral decision [on severance] is because we would like to proceed expeditiously.”

Despite the importance of a written, fully reasoned decision on severance, said Cambodian Justice Initiative program officer Panhavuth Long, its absence doesn’t preclude the possibility of resuming hearings.

“The judge should be able to continue the proceedings without delay,” he said. “It is very important for the defence to have a written decision on the severance order, but I would say that normally, whatever the [full] decision is on the severance order, it does not invalidate the previous judicial proceedings.”

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