Opening statements in Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal became acts of protest yesterday, as the defences for co-accused Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan both walked out of the courtroom, pledging to boycott future hearings on the grounds of gross procedural defects.
In a lengthy speech that took aim at purported errors in the judges’ verdict in Case 002/01 – and, at times, the judges themselves – Chea vigorously denounced the decision that saw him and Samphan handed life sentences for crimes against humanity stemming from the forcible evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975 and the execution of soldiers and officials loyal to the fallen Lon Nol regime in its aftermath.
Chea also defended his assertion that an opposing faction within the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), supported by the “land-swallowing, annexationist” Vietnamese, was responsible for the crimes attributed to him in the court’s indictment.
Yesterday, Chea went on to inform the court’s trial chamber that he had instructed his counsel to boycott any future hearings until a special judicial panel decided on his team’s request that all of the current judges – save newcomer Claudia Fenz – be disqualified from hearing the remaining cases against him.
Addressing the bench and his “beloved fellow Cambodians”, Chea took issue with the court’s assertion that he and CPK leader Pol Pot “controlled every single Khmer Rouge cadre, from the lowest foot soldiers to the party’s central and standing committees”.
“You ignored evidence that, contrary to being under my total control, standing and central committee members like Sao Phim, Ruos Nhim …and others were actually an opposing faction inside the party supported by Vietnam,” he said.
“This tribunal was established to find truth and justice, but in your first judgement against me two months ago, you completely failed to do so,” he continued.
“If you will not step down while the disqualification application is decided, you leave me with no choice. I instruct my lawyers to leave the courtroom after Mr Khieu Samphan has spoken, and to boycott all further hearings in this trial until this disqualification decision is issued.”
Taking the floor next, Samphan lambasted what he characterised as the judges’ bias in convicting him of participation in a joint criminal enterprise, saying that he had “no doubt at all that [they] will render quite similar decisions” if they apply the same flawed reasoning to Case 002/02.
“Nevertheless, to defend myself, I have been left with no choice but to ensure that my appeal with the Supreme Court Chamber is accepted,” he said.
To that end, Samphan continued, he would be instructing his lawyers to focus all of their energies on the Case 002/01 appeal, rather than attending any hearings in Case 002/02.
“In order to allow me to continue to work on this case, particularly on the appeal that I have filed to the Supreme Court Chamber, I would like to respectfully submit to the chamber that I cannot participate in Case 002/02,” he added.
“I know if you force me to, I cannot object, but I want it to be on the record that every day I am present in this courtroom it is under duress, and it is a violation of my rights.”
With that, both defence teams exited the courtroom.
The prosecution – who had largely devoted their statements to illustrating the gravity of the accusations in Case 002/02 – responded to the defences’ revelations by maintaining that “it is not up to [the defence teams’] clients to run this trial”.
“I think your honours should order them to appear at another hearing where this is discussed,” said international prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, urging parties to maintain “cool heads”.
Koumjian also referenced a case in the Special Court for Sierra Leone in which a defendant’s attorneys were compelled to continue representing him due to the late stage of the trial and the defendant’s inability to represent himself as requested.
Panhavuth Long, a program officer with the Cambodian Justice Initiative, suggested a similar measure, saying that the bench should compel the defence counsels to continue to appear in court, while at the same time being mindful of their valid points about fair trial rights and striving to improve.
“I don’t know whether the trial chamber has the power to compel the accused or the lawyers to participate in the proceedings or not. But I don’t agree with the [plan] of the lawyers and the accused to boycott the proceedings,” he said.
Trial chamber president Nil Nonn said yesterday that the court would “issue a decision on the conduct of the defence teams … at a later stage,” and announced that the matter would be discussed at a trial management meeting next week.
The atmosphere of protest inside the courtroom was mirrored by an actual protest taking place outside, where about 200 civil parties gathered to demand that the court allow the awarding of individual monetary compensation to victim-participants.
Anger toward Khmer Rouge tribunal
The court’s internal rules only allow for collective and moral reparations, and in its Case 002/01 judgement the court endorsed several reparations projects such as memorials, Khmer Rouge education projects and mental health programs for civil parties. In Case 002/02 the civil party lawyers have proposed even more projects, such as vocational training for the children of forced marriages and a free healthcare initiative.
However, civil party Pen Soeun, one of the signatories to a statement demanding individual reparations, said yesterday that “the reparations the court released on August 7, 2014 are not for us; they are more for the NGOs”.
“They took the money, and I don’t see anything helpful for us,” he said.
The civil parties are demanding $13,500 each, an amount comparable to the compensation that victims of the Koh Pich bridge stampede were eligible for in 2010, Soeun said.
There are nearly 4,000 registered civil parties at the tribunal.
Civil party lead co-lawyer Marie Guiraud said yesterday that while she sympathises with the civil parties’ frustrations, it had been made clear from the outset that individual reparations would not be an option.
What civil parties should focus on now, she continued, is participating in the ongoing consultations as to what collective projects they would like implemented.
Additional reporting by Koam Chanrasmey.