The Khmer Rouge tribunal appears to have taken a step towards replacing international defenders for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea with temporary outside counsel over the objections of both the lawyers and the accused, according to a confidential email from the court’s Defence Support Section (DSS).
The DSS email, sent out to lawyers by section chief Isaac Endeley and obtained yesterday, seeks to gauge how willing, and prepared, recipients are to move to Phnom Penh to begin representing the two accused.
The prosecution has suggested that the court appoint such outside “friend of the court” counsel in order to keep proceedings moving despite an ongoing boycott of hearings in Case 002/02 by both defence teams. In a recent ruling, the court’s trial chamber ordered defence teams to return to court November 17 – threatening “firm action” should they fail to comply – and made pointed reference to the prosecution’s suggestion.
“The Trial Chamber here at the ECCC has instructed the Defence Support Section to identify two international lawyers who could be appointed on short notice to represent the interests of the two accused during ongoing trial proceedings in Case 002,” Endeley’s email reads. “The purpose of this e-mail is to ascertain your immediate availability for such an appointment.”
The letter goes on to ask recipients if they are members in good standing of both their national bar associations and that of Cambodia, and whether they have ever worked at the tribunal.
“When is the earliest possible date when you can be available in Cambodia to represent the interests of the accused should the Trial Chamber decide to appoint you?” it continues.
“Do you have any other professional commitments that could affect your ability to remain in Cambodia for an extended period of time?”
A request for comment from Endeley was not returned as of press time. Court legal communications officer Lars Olsen, citing the confidentiality of the matter, declined to answer questions as to how many people had received the letter, or whether the assignment of outside counsel was the “firm action” promised by the chamber.
Samphan defender Kong Sam Onn, however, reiterated yesterday that his team would oppose any efforts to replace them.
“I did make it clear to the court [at a trial management meeting] on October 28 that any lawyer who wants to take the case is competing to take the client from the existing lawyer, so this is a breach of the professional code of conduct of lawyers,” he said. “And Khieu Samphan also explained to the court that he still wants us to be his lawyer, and we made it clear to the court that we will not give up our client.”
Chea defender Victor Koppe, meanwhile, characterised the action as premature, given that the teams had not yet failed to appear on the appointed date.
“It doesn’t surprise me. Whatever the prosecution suggests to this Court, it almost always slavishly follows,” he said in a message yesterday. “But that the court would do this behind our back and even before the 17 November hearing is astonishing.”