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Expert witnesses on tap

Expert witnesses on tap

Stephen Heder reuters
Stephen Heder, a leading scholar on the Khmer Rouge, conducts research at the Documentation Center of Cambodia in 1999. Reuters

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal has announced its line-up of witnesses for the first months of 2013 — a schedule that includes controversial expert witnesses Philip Short and Stephen Heder, who have drawn criticism from the defence.

In an announcement posted to its website last Wednesday, the court also set a date for a series of assessments and a hearing to determine the fitness to stand trial of ailing co-accused Ieng Sary and fellow co-defendant Nuon Chea — who, in recent hearings, has complained of dizziness and a lack of concentration.

The court will hear author and journalist Elizabeth Becker in mid-February, journalist and China expert Short in early March and court investigator-turned-historian Heder at the end of March.

“Finally, the Chamber notes that it has rescheduled medical experts to review the health and fitness to stand trial of the accused during the week of 18 March  . . .  a hearing will be held on Ieng Sary’s health fitness to stand trial on 21 March . . .  and a hearing will be held on Nuon Chea’s health and fitness to stand trial on 22 March,” the filing reads.

In the past, the Sary defence has maintained that he is unable to follow court proceedings, and that because Short’s testimony is expected to touch on past interviews with Sary, it would be inappropriate for him to testify as long as Sary is incapable of participating in his own defence — a stance they reiterated yesterday.

Sary co-counsel Michael Karnavas called the decision to call the experts “offensive” and noted that the fact the hearing on the defendants’ fitness came after Short’s testimony “speaks volumes”.

“If the real issue is that they’re concerned and they want to make sure that our client is fully capable, you’d think that they would schedule [the fitness hearing] before, not after,” Karnavas said.

Prosecutor Bill Smith, however, maintained via email that medical examinations had offered no evidence of either defendant’s inability to follow the proceedings, and that the defence had had ample time to prepare for the experts.  

“Significantly, these witnesses have been on the co-prosecutors’ witness list for two years, during which time the defence have been able to gain instructions from their clients,” Smith said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at [email protected]