It is a long-established principle, for a fair trial, that the accused have the right to a defence. For this reason, the five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge now appearing before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have been provided with all the means for their own legal representation at the court's expense.
The responsibility of the defence team in a trial such as this needs to be carefully considered. In general, the circumstances seem to be crystal clear: The Khmer Rouge presided over a political system that caused the death of 1.6 million people. It is therefore difficult, on the face of it, to refute the charges against those who led the Khmer Rouge.
Consequently, counsel for Khieu Samphan, Jacques Verges, has openly employed tactics based on the "rupture defence", his own invention within legal defence strategies. In brief, the strategy aims to destroy the trial process rather than convince the court of the innocence of the accused parties.
Now other defence teams within the Khmer Rouge trial, including the team defending Nuon Chea, appear to have come to the same conclusion - without much hope of refuting the charges against their clients, they seek instead to destroy the trial itself. We are driven to this conclusion by witnessing the repeated, gratuitous and mostly irrelevant attacks on members of the court staff and its institutions by these defence teams.
In circumstances such as these, one would expect that the role of the defence team is to ensure that the evidence against the accused is presented with absolute accuracy and fairness, and the defendants are judged then on the merits of the case. It is to the discredit of those who have taken on the role of the KR defence that they have chosen to do otherwise. What is threatened now is that these defence teams will destroy a process designed to settle, once and for all, the historical record. This will be a tragic disservice to those most affected by the Khmer Rouge regime.
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