Proceedings will mark the first time the defence and prosecution will
meet in the trial chambers, and one observer says both sides will have
to 'feel their way' through the unproven legal tangle.
Former Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch at a preliminary meeting at the court last week.
THE first of what is likely to be five trials conducted by the Khmer Rouge tribunal, that of former Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, is largely seen as a test case for the UN-backed court, one legal observer said Monday as officials announced the opening date for the proceedings.
An initial public hearing for the 66-year-old - the first step in the trial phase of proceedings against him - scheduled to open February 17.
The trial marks a milestone for the tribunal and is the end result of more than a decade of legal wrangling by the United Nations and government over how best to prosecute crimes committed during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.
While setting a trial is tangible progress, the process has been fraught with obstacles, and the tribunal today remains unproven, Michelle Staggs Kelsall, deputy director of the Asian International Justice Initiative at the monitoring group the East-West Centre, told the Post Monday.
"This is very much a test case in how proceedings will be run, which will establish how the trial chamber is going to function and the dynamics between the parties," she said, adding that trial will likely set a precedent for future proceedings.
Kaing Guek Eav, who is more commonly known by his revolutionary name Duch, in one of five former regime leaders detained by the tribunal and is charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Staggs Kelsall said as the first trial of the experimental hybrid court, Duch's could still face further delays as both the prosecution and defence find their stride.
"It's going to be the first time the trial chamber has convened for a full trial. Lots of things are going to be novel about the proceedings, such as the involvement of victims as participants, so they will very much be feeling their way through it and expecting the unexpected," Staggs Kelsall said.
"As with every initial hearing, there may be judicial challenges by the prosecutor or defence that may delay actual testimonies .... In that sense, the trial proper might be delayed."
‘I could not pardon him'
For one the few remaining Tuol Sleng survivors, Duch's trial is hoped to bring closure to years of agony spent struggling with the memories of his time in Tuol Sleng.
Bou Meng is one of only 14 inmates thought to have survived the prison and, like fellow inmate Vann Nath, was kept alive for his artistic abilities.
During a court-ordered tour of Tuol Sleng and the Choeung Ek killing fields last year, he came face-to-face with his former jailer.
"Duch and I talked face to face. He prayed and apologised to me, but I did not pray back. I told to him that I could not pardon him yet," Bou Meng said told the Post.
"Let the tribunal sentence him if he has bad karma," he said. "I have waited for this hearing day for a long time and am satisfied to hear that it will start," he added.