The Khmer Rouge tribunal has issued a misconduct warning to lawyers for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, accusing them of obstructing proceedings for staging a boycott of their clients’ genocide trial.
In a press release on Friday, the tribunal said the lawyers were being warned for walking out of the courtroom during opening statements in the trial on October 17, and for failing to appear at a trial management meeting earlier this week.
“The Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has, pursuant to Internal Rule 38, issued an official warning for misconduct to the national and international defense counsel for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea,” the statement says.
It goes on to order both defense teams to present themselves in court for another trial management meeting on Tuesday.
Under Rule 38, after issuing a warning, judges can impose sanctions on lawyers deemed to have obstructed proceedings. Judges can also refer the lawyers to their bar associations for disciplinary action, a process that can lead to the lawyers being banned from appearing before the ECCC.
Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s second-in-command, and Khieu Samphan, its former head of state, instructed their respective legal teams to initiate the boycott out of frustration with the way the court has dealt with this phase of their trial, known as Case 002/02.
Trial judges in 2011 decided to split the massive indictment against the two men into multiple phases so that they could issue verdicts faster. The first phase dealt primarily with mass evacuations, and wrapped up in August; both defendants were convicted of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison.
Nuon Chea now argues that the trial judges who convicted him and Khieu Samphan in August are hopelessly biased, and wants them replaced in the second trial phase. Khieu Samphan is calling for the second trial to be postponed so that he has more time to work on his appeal brief in the first case.
Kong Sam Onn, Khieu Sampan’s Cambodian lawyer, called Friday’s misconduct warning “very unfair.”
He said lawyers had given the judges fair warning of their boycott and that they were acting on clear instructions from their client.
“We cannot be present in court because we have to do the drafting of the appeal as instructed by the client, otherwise the client may dismiss us from the case,” he said.
Mr. Sam Onn said they lawyers would not appear at Tuesday’s hearing, either, unless Khieu Samphan instructed them too.
Appeals in the first phase of the case must be submitted by the end of November, although parties have asked the judges to extend this deadline to December 29.
Civil party lead co-lawyer Pich Ang, who represents around 4,000 victims of the Khmer Rouge regime participating as plaintiffs in the case, said the boycott was merely a delay tactic meant to stop the case from moving forward. “It’s just their strategy, but it cannot stop the court from processing the trial,” he said.
But civil party Pen Soeun, a member of a victims’ association that has recently come together to demand cash reparations from the ECCC, said he fully supported the defendants’ boycott.
Mr. Soeun said he and other civil parties could sympathize with Nuon Chea’s and Khieu Samphan’s feeling that the court did not respect their rights.
“We civil parties are not angry and do not have a bad reaction against the defense teams of the two accused, but we think they have done the right thing,” he said.
“This court does not give full rights to the civil parties and the defense to argue.”
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