Defence teams representing former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan in a new trial revolving around genocide charges say their boycott of the tribunal will continue indefinitely.
The lawyers walked out of court on Friday after their clients read aloud statements condemning the alleged bias of the judges who sentenced them to life in prison in August, and skewering the flawed rationale behind the verdict.
Speaking to reporters at the FCC in Phnom Penh a day later, Anta Guisse and Kong Sam Onn, who represent former head of state Khieu Samphan, and Victor Koppe and Son Arun, the lawyers for Brother No. 2 Nuon Chea, elaborated on and reiterated their clients' wishes.
Both teams want fresh faces on the bench, arguing that except for one new judge, all presiding over Case 002/02 – which started on Friday – were behind the guilty verdict in the first sub-trial, making them biased. Samphan’s team is also demanding time to prepare an appeal.
“We need to check more closely because we have many documents to revise and thousands of reference documents to study,” said Sam Onn, Samphan’s Cambodian lawyer, adding that early 2015 would be the “right time to continue the hearing”.
Anta Guisse, Sam Ong’s international counterpart, defended the boycott, dismissing suggestions that it was part of a delaying strategy. She also told reporters that she was unaware of what actions the judges could take to force the lawyers back into the courtroom.
“I’ve just fought for the rights of my client,” Guisse said. “And if I can’t be heard for the rights of my client, then I am not here to be just a plant in the courtroom.”
Victor Koppe, Chea’s international lawyer, said that Cambodian law is “quite clear” about what should happen after a disqualification motion against judges has been filed. The judges have to step down, he said, until a special panel – which has already been formed – has reached a decision. A delay of one or two months would not hurt the proceedings, he said.
“How long this will continue, depends on the Special Bench which will decide on the disqualification motion,” Koppe said in an email yesterday.
Asked when that might occur, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said in an email that it would be “in due course”.
Though a management meeting is expected to be held on Tuesday to discuss the crisis, if the defence continues to stay away, evidentiary hearings cannot proceed, according to Neth Pheaktra, the Cambodian spokesman for the court.
“Based on the internal rule, Case 002/02 will be unable to continue if there is no presence of the accused or the defense lawyer.”