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The KR trial must go on

Khieu Samphan sits in the courtroom at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in October
Khieu Samphan sits in the courtroom at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in October. AFP/ECCC

The KR trial must go on

The evidentiary hearings of Case 002/02 before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were originally scheduled to start on October 20. Following the continued nonparticipation of the Khieu Samphan defence, acting upon the instructions received by their client, the Trial Chamber decided on November 24 to adjourn the trial proceedings until January 8, 2015.

In its oral decision, the chamber noted that it “ha[d] no reasonable alternative’’ but to adjourn, omitting to consider – let alone rule on – the co-prosecutors’ request to appoint amicus curiae counsel. The principle behind the appointment of an amicus was not to replace the defence counsels or their team, but to introduce a measure aimed at preventing the defendants from controlling the courtroom to the prejudice of other parties without jeopardising the rights of the accused. The amicus curiae need not be acquainted with the case file, nor be international counsel.

By failing to address this request, which was meant to ensure the continuity of proceedings with due respect to the interests of the defence and the civil parties, there has been confusion and despondency among the civil parties.

Indeed, since August, we have received information that two more civil parties have passed away. The testimonies of several civil parties originally expected to testify between October and December 2014 have been rescheduled multiple times. For example, the civil party who had been summoned to testify on November 24 was present at the court. The date of her testimony has been changed three times already.

The civil parties have consistently emphasised that it is always in their interest to have defence rights respected. They have acknowledged on several occasions that the right to fair and expeditious trial extends to the accused to the same degree as to the victims.

Both of the defendants have expressed during their opening remarks their will to participate fully in the proceedings. Nuon Chea has reiterated that he is “remorseful for that suffering and that [he] accept[s] moral responsibility for it since [he] was one of the most senior leaders”. He has expressed that “[he] too want[s] this trial to proceed so that [he] ha[s] the opportunity to speak to the Cambodian people about what really happened”. Khieu Samphan indicated the same day that “[he] will be happy to return and cooperate with this proceeding”. Those statements are of paramount importance for the Civil Parties, as the active participation of the two accused is a prerequisite if the trial is to provide any answers to civil parties’ most pressing questions, including: “Why did Khmer kill Khmer?” We now need a trial so that both the accused and the civil parties can speak their own truth.

Marie Guiraud is the international civil party lead co-lawyer at the ECCC.

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