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The 'devil's advocate'

The 'devil's advocate'

Jacques Verges at a press conference after his client's hearing on Thursday.

Renegade lawyer Jacques Verges on translations, the Khmer Rouge and the political nature of international tribunals

You have asked for the translation of documents related to Khieu Samphan's case into French and at the same criticised the way the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has used French financial contributions. But France did not give any conditions on how the ECCC should use this money.
We have been told that it was too costly to translate all the documents. But frankly, what did they do with the $5 million from France? If France has given money, it should have been used first of all to translate the documents into French. Give me the money! I will bring you back the translated texts in a month.

You are forcing the ECCC to accede to your request. If they do not, the process will be blocked.
No, I would rather say that the ECCC is forcing us to act in this way. The Cambodian prosecutor, Chea Leang, said that our appeal was inadmissible because it concerned an administrative issue. But that does not undermine my client's rights. Asking for documents is a matter of investigation. As far as I'm concerned, the Pre-Trial Chamber will agree with us.

But aren't you deliberately slowing down the process?
Not at all! Just give us the means to collaborate! We want to do things fast and right, but we refuse to do it fast and wrong. If the court starts to advise a charged person to change his lawyer, this is a rout. If the court wants to blame me, then let them sue me. I challenge them to do so. Concerning Ieng Sary, he has already been judged and pardoned. Now it is said that he has been wrongly judged. The facts are the same, you cannot really change the charge 30 years later. Could you imagine being accused of the same thing but under another charge years later? Nuon Chea, for his part, does not want to collaborate because he objects that some judges are corrupt.

A few days before your arrival in Phnom Penh, you declared in a German magazine [Der Spiegel] that the trial of your client would not take place. Why?
The ECCC has broken down because of a lack of funds. The United Nations has launched investigations into the corruption inside the tribunal, and if the charges were uncertain, nobody would talk about them. If they go too far, the donors will cut off the tribunal's means of subsistence. There will be no trial if there is no money.

Don't you think that the altercation between civil parties and Sa Sovan on Thursday after the hearing showed how much the Cambodian people need to understand this period and need justice?
After the liberation in France or after the war in Algeria, there were no complaints registered. Here in Cambodia, the complaints are suggested, and posters from the ECCC are distributed around the country. But people live here in a Buddhist culture, which is very different. I remember a well-known father who interviewed a young Cambodian girl, saying that "the murderers of your father will be judged. What do you think about that?" She did not care. For her, her father had been executed, it was his karma. If public opinion demanded justice, there would not be so much resistance to the tribunal.

Do you believe in international tribunals?
I am suspicious. These are political tribunals, to varying degrees. For instance, the Nuremberg military tribunals, which were tribunals of the victors against the defeated, operated properly. Men like Dr Hjalmar Schacht, former economics minister, or [Franz] von Papen, former ambassador of the Nazi regime, were acquitted. Others were sentenced to the death penalty. Albert Speer, minister of armaments, was sentenced to 20 years. There was a sentence scale.

Some do not understand why Sa Sovan, a Cambodian lawyer, would defend Khieu Samphan.
This absurd reaction is the same in all the countries around the world. I defended Klaus Barbie. Because I was involved in the Free French Forces, I could not be accused of being a collaborationist. If a man is charged and he has got no lawyer, it is not a democracy.

Were the Khmer Rouge communists?
The Khmer Rouge were Jacobins, nurtured on the French revolution. Ho Chi Minh, for his part, was as old as communism: He was one of the founders of the French Communist Party. When Phnom Penh was emptied of its inhabitants, people were treated differently according to their military units, just as it happened during the French revolution. There was no centralised dictatorship.

Interview by Anne-Laure Porée


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