Two French lawyers, Julien Rivet and Christine Martineau, were sworn in Thursday at the Appeal Court in Phnom Penh to enable them to represent civil parties at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Rivet said in an interview after the swearing-in ceremony, which was conducted in front of a panel of three judges, that he would represent 65-year-old French-Vietnamese author Denise Affonco, who wrote of her struggle under the Khmer Rouge regime in the 2005 book “La Digues Des Veuves”—published in English last year as “To the End of Hell.”
Affonco, who had been an employee of the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, lost her Cambodian husband, daughter, two nieces, one nephew, a sister-in-law and brother-in-law to the regime, said Rivet, who has worked as an attorney in Paris for 11 years.
Rivet, who arrived in Cambodia last week and left for Paris on Thursday afternoon after the ceremony, said he would file a complaint on behalf of Affonco for her to become a civil party at the tribunal, but he was still not sure when.
“She wants to understand why,” Rivet said of his client, adding that she also wants an apology from the architects of the regime.
Affonco had refused to leave Cambodia when the French government flew French nationals out of the country in 1975, Rivet said.
“Her family was not French, so she decided to stay in Cambodia,” he said, adding that she and her family were relocated out of Phnom Penh to the west of the country, where her loved ones were killed or died in labor camps.
“It was a very tough choice,” he said.
Affonco also testified at the much-maligned 1979 People’s Revolutionary Tribunal in Phnom Penh, which first tried the leaders of the regime, Rivet said.
“She was in the 1979 trial as a witness; she had been asked to do it,” he said, adding that Affonco has not returned to Cambodia since then, and he was not sure whether she would come back for this tribunal.
“She keeps telling me that it is very difficult to come back [to Cambodia], and maybe she won’t; I respect her choice,” he said.
Also sworn in Thursday, Martineau, who works for the legal aid group Avocats Sans Frontieres France, said that she would represent some of the victims attached as civil parties to tribunal case file two—the larger of the court’s two cases, and the one that includes all five Khmer Rouge defendants.
She added, however, that she was not yet certain who her clients would be or how many she would ultimately represent.
Bar Association Secretary-General Suon Visal, who was present during the swearing-in ceremony, said that Martineau had requested to register Sept 4 while Julien Rivet had done so on Sept 22.
He added that the 19-member Bar Council had approved the two lawyers to practice in Cambodia on Oct 10.