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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Trial debates civil party role

Trial debates civil party role

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090219_02.jpg

On the final day of an initial hearing for the trial of prison chief

Duch, debates over the role of victims and the use of evidence show

healthy party divisions.

Photo by:

Tracey Shelton

Tuol Sleng survivor and artist Vann Nath faces reporters at the second day of preliminary hearings for prison chief Duch’s trial.

WHAT role will be afforded victims in the trial of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav continued to be the centre of discussions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday, as the court concluded two days of preliminary hearings before testimonies begin in March.

The hearing, which began Tuesday, considered issues such as how many witness would be called. But the main debate inside the courtroom focused on whether to allow Norng Chan Phal, a former child prisoner of S-21, to become a civil party, and whether recently obtained video footage should be included as evidence.

"I would like to request the trial chamber judges to consider the footage shot on January 7, 1979, provided by the Vietnamese government and also the testimonies of children who escaped S-21 as new evidence," said Chea Leang, Cambodian co-prosecutor, referring to archival footage from Vietnam submitted to the court late.

But the requests sparked angry responses from Duch's defence team.

"We are in a trial, not in a boxing ring," Francois Roux, Duch's international co-lawyer, told reporters after the hearing.

"I would like to ask co-prosecutors to respect the rules. They had more than two years ... and now that the investigation is closed, they send new evidences. What is this?" he asked.

Co-lawyer Kar Savuth also called into questioned the authenticity of the video footage, which was filmed by Vietnamese soldiers and shows shackled bodies decomposing in the prison's cells.

"We don't believe that the footage is real. We consider that it is political [and] a manipulation," he said during the hearing.

The dispute over late evidence prompted a broader debate over the significance and role of civil parties, a controversial experiment at the UN-backed court.

This is going to be an area of constant tension...but i am optimistic

"It is not the role of the civil parties to decide on a sentence against Duch. If they do this, it will be seen as vengeance," Roux told reporters.
But civil party co-lawyer Pierre-Olivier Sur said this was not their aim.

"What is of concern is the work of the trial, the truth that Duch will give. We would like to reconstruct the truth and not touch on a sentence," he told the Post.

He argued that the unprecedented nature of victim participation at the tribunal meant that including late applicants overrode a legal deadline for submissions.  

"In the history of international penal procedure, this is the first time that victims can legally represent themselves as civil parties," he said.

Friendly antagonism

The concept of civil party participation - giving victims legal clout as represented members of the court - has been a regular source of antagonism at the tribunal, though one that some observers say is healthy.

 "This is going to be an area of constant tension, which is not suprising given the court's unique role for civil parties," Heather Ryan, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, told the Post.

"But I am optimistic as the trial chamber dealt with it professionally, and everyone handled it very well," she added.

The discussions left some victims with mixed feelings about their role in the proceedings.  

"I don't understand this hearing yet. It is very technical. Today at the hearing, we still don't have any result, and I continue to wait," Tuol Sleng survivor Vann Nath told the Post. "[But] I will be patient," he added.

"I am very happy to see the court working and developing," another S-21 survivor, Chhum Mey, said. "I hope that the court will judge him in the near future."

Co-prosecutors submitted a list of 35 witnesses to the chamber. Though the defence have only submitted 13, Duch's lawyers say they want as many questions as possible asked to Duch, and welcomed civil parties' role in this.

"If we don't have civil parties, the facts will not be revealed," Roux said.

Nil Nonn, president of the Trial Chamber, told the court that a date for the first testimony will be announced in the near future. 

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