From left, Dutch defense attorney Victory Kroppe and Cambodian defense attorney Son Arun represent former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea February 4 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Leaning heavily on his cane, Brother Number Two limped up to
the dock, occasionally hoisted along by a security guard who held him firmly under
Under the fluorescent lights of the courtroom Nuon Chea’s
skin assumed the papery translucence of the very old. His 82 years sit heavy on
him, but his hooded eyes are bright and roamed across the members of the pre-trial
chamber as the proceeding commenced.
“I have no desire to leave my beloved country,” he told the
court, explaining why he was not a flight risk and should not be obliged to
remain in pre-trial detention. He added that he had been living in “peace and
harmony” in Pailin prior to his arrest and was not afraid for his safety should
he be released.
After a three day delay – the hearing was scheduled for
February 4 but the Cambodian Bar Association only swore-in Dutch lawyer Victor
Koppe on February 6 – Nuon Chea’s appeal against his pre-trial detention
resumed February 7.
The defense team began by questioning why civil parties
should be allowed to participate in the current hearing.
Wearing a crisp dark-grey shirt with two pens neatly clipped
to the left pocket, the most senior surviving leader of the Khmer Rouge regime
sat placidly chewing the inside of his cheeks as his Cambodian lawyer, Son
Arun, pursued the line of questioning.
Koppe and Arun argued that the civil parties had no
fundamental right to be present at the hearing and should not be allowed to
make oral submissions.
Co-prosecutor Robert Petit argued that civil parties should
be allowed to participate. He asked that in future that when the defense made
legal arguments of this nature they provide all parties with copies of the
relevant documents, but went on to “strongly urge” the pre-trial chamber to
allow the proceedings go ahead.
The lawyers for the civil parties also said they should be
permitted to participate and requested the proceedings not be adjourned.
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said there were three
lawyers representing four civil parties – one lawyer representing two
unidentified civil parties, and the other the other two representing one civil
party each: Theary Seng and Sok Sam Oeun.
After several hours of debate, the pre-trial chamber judges allowed
the hearing to go ahead with the civil parties’ participation but they said a
decision on the fundamental issue of their participation would be made before
they issue a ruling on Nuon Chea’s appeal against his pre-trial detention.
Koppe, who sat mute during the February 4 hearing, spoke for
the first time in court to support Arun’s argument. The Dutch lawyer’s request to
work as an attorney in Cambodia
was approved November 5, but he was not sworn in by the CBA on February 1
because he committed what the CBA called a “major offense” in signing judicial
documents before being officially sworn in.
“If we let people act as
lawyers before they swore them it would set a very bad precedent,” said Ly
Tayseng, CBA spokesman. “He formally recognized his mistake and officially
apologized to the Bar Council. He was sworn in [February 6].”
Koppe said he accepted there
had been a misunderstanding and that he had apologized for it.
Tayseng added that he was unsurprised by the widespread allegations
that the incident was politically motivated because the document Koppe signed
was a controversial request to disqualify pre-trial chamber judge Ney Thol.
“People don’t look at the law and they criticize. All
lawyers in all countries must swear in before they practice their legal profession,”
Tayseng said. “But we see the importance of the ECCC [and] it is very important
that Koppe participates so this was why after carefully examining this case we
decided to swear him in.”
For many at the court
– even those members of the public allowed into the pre-trial chamber itself
rather than forced to watch proceedings in the still unfinished main courtroom
– the arguments proved somewhat impenetrable.
“These arguments are
for legal professionals,” said Youk Chhang, director of the DocumentationCenter
The process is crucial,
Chhang said. “We can use ECCC to bring about the healing process, it is part of
restoring our humanity and it is very significant,” he said.
The appeal hearing will continue February 8 at 9am.