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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KRT judge accused of ‘bias’ while probing witness

Victor Koppe (left), the co-lawyer for the defence of Nuon Chea, speaks at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia last year. ECCC
Victor Koppe (left), the co-lawyer for the defence of Nuon Chea, speaks at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia last year. ECCC

KRT judge accused of ‘bias’ while probing witness

An international judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal was yesterday accused of “bias” by Nuon Chea’s defence counsel after asking a witness a leading question regarding conditions under Democratic Kampuchea.

French judge Jean-Marc Lavergne was questioning witness 2-TCW-1036, whose name was withheld, about whether he experienced hunger or any other problems under the rule of Pol Pot.

The witness, a former bodyguard for Ruos Nhim, who was purged in 1978, said he was not aware of people fleeing to Thailand to escape Democratic Kampuchea, and that while in some places people suffered from hunger, he himself always had enough food to eat.

“So as a matter of fact, everything was perfect during the period of Democratic Kampuchea, you didn’t experience any problems, there were no enemies [and] people ate to their fill?” Lavergne asked.

At that point, Victor Koppe, the defence counsel for Nuon Chea who is accused in Case 002/02 of crimes against humanity including genocide, interjected. “I know it is very hard for judge Lavergne to hide his bias; it’s not easy for him I know, but at least he can make an attempt,” Koppe said.

It is not the first time the Dutch lawyer has expressed concerns of bias on the bench.

In a February interview with the Mekong Review, Koppe described the French judge as “the ultimate combination of bias, incompetence and dumbness”.

The trial chamber referred those comments to the Amsterdam Bar Association as an example of “possible professional misconduct”.

Lavergne yesterday responded that he was simply seeking answers, but proceeded with a “more open” query about whether the witness faced any problems during the regime. “There were no problems,” the witness said.

The witness, who yesterday testified he was tortured after Nhim’s arrest for treason, was probed about a trip he made from Battambang to Phnom Den mountain, near Vietnam, following the route of Nhim.

A collection of military uniforms were then placed into his truck, with Koppe on Wednesday asking whether it struck the witness as “highly unusual” that materials would be collected from the Vietnamese side when tensions between the two nations were high.

An alleged planned coup orchestrated by Nhim and Sao Phim, and other internal factionalism, is a key argument in Chea’s defence.

Despite his role as a bodyguard, the witness said he was “not close” to Nhim and was unable to tell if he took orders from the upper echelon.

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