Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - S21 child barred as civil party

S21 child barred as civil party

S21 child barred as civil party

Judges deny alleged Tuol Sleng survivor legal status at tribunal

A MAN believed to be a child survivor of the notorious Tuol Sleng detention centre will not be allowed to represent himself as a civil party in the upcoming trial of Kaing Guek Eav, the prison's chief, judges ruled earlier this month. 

Though more than 12,000 men, women and children perished at the camp, known as S21, under the Khmer Rouge regime, Norng Chunphal was lucky enough to hide in a pile of clothes when the last remaining prisoners were slaughtered.

The 39-year-old applied to become a civil party two days after the cut-off for applicants in February, and judges have now ruled against allowing discretion to his case.

"I am not very happy with this decision because I really wanted to be one of the civil parties in this case," Norng Chunphal told the Post.

"I was late to apply because I work in a rural area.... But I don't have any other choice except to be a witness, and I think I can participate in the trial to bring justice to the victims, especially the victims of S-21 prison in which my parents were detained and killed," he added.

Researchers located the child survivor only last month when newly obtained archival footage from Vietnam indicated that he, along with his brother and two others, were likely to be alive.

After the court's Victim's Unit denied his late application, lawyers for the survivor filed a motion to appeal the deadline.

"Yes, I believe it is unfair, but I believe that we would have had no chance whatsoever [to appeal or request a reconsideration], as they would have respected the discretion of the presiding judge," civil party lawyer Alain Werner said, who confirmed Norng Chunphal had been added to their witness list.

"... the judges, all along ... were extremely clear about the fact that they would not accept any application filed late.... So we do not want to fight a lost battle, and a request to include him as a witness was the best solution given the circumstances," he added.

"Practically, that will mean that his testimony will carry more weight. But, of course, he will not be entitled to reparation [as a civil party]. And that is unfair," he said.

As the only child to survive the prison, there was a significant push to include him as a party to the proceedings, with lawyers focusing on the issue at the initial hearing of the case in February.

According to the court's rules, the president of the chamber may, by special decision, extend or shorten the deadline. However a decision, dated March 11 but obtained by the Post Thursday, says that Norng Chunphal's reason for missing the deadline was not deserving of discretion.

"...considerable efforts were made by the ECCC to inform the public of the existing deadlines....Consequently, the trial chamber denies the motion," it said.

Though the decision is classified "public", it has not been posted on the ECCC website.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, whose researchers led the hunt to find the surviving children, said he was disappointed with the decision.

"He put his application in late. It is not his fault but it is the law," he said.

"This will hopefully serve as a case to improve the current procedure of reaching out to what is the most vital audience - victims in remote areas," he added.

The substantive part of Kaing Guek Eav's trial, the first at the war crimes court, begins on March 30.

Though Norng Chunphal has been added onto the civil parties' witness list, it is up to judges as to whether or not he will be called upon during the trial. 

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