Defense Teams ‘Boycott’ Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal were halted Wednesday morning after defense teams for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan walked out of the courtroom, with one lawyer calling the documentary hearing that was underway a “farce.”

The hearing began with a presentation by the prosecution of a series of short videos, secondary source excerpts and accounts from the Democratic Kampuchea period. But it was interrupted by an objection from Nuon Chea’s defense counsel, Victor Koppe, who disagreed with the prosecution’s planned use of written records of interview (WRI), which are transcripts of witness interviews.

“Documents should be discussed—either preferably contemporaneous documents, possibly also documents consisting of books or journals—but WRIs… this is not what the trial chamber meant,” Mr. Koppe said.

“If the prosecution is allowed to discuss WRIs, we have in fact sort of a semi-closing argument situation. I think we should not go there.”

Documentary hearings are intended to give parties a chance to highlight a selection of the roughly 10,000 documents in the case file.

In its presentation, the prosecution read from an interview with a witness who had worked at the January 1 dam site in Kompong Thom province, but did not say whether he was still alive.

In response to Mr. Koppe’s initial objection, the Trial Chamber gave the defense team the impression that only written interviews from witnesses who had died were permissible.

But after Mr. Koppe complained about the witness account that was being read out, Judge Claudia Fenz clarified that witnesses’ interviews could be presented even if they are still living.

“Then we will officially withdraw from our document presentation because this is a farce,” Mr. Koppe responded, then walked out of the room.

About a minute later, Arthur Vercken, defense counsel for Khieu Samphan, said “this document hearing does not have its place in this trial,” before following Mr. Koppe out.

The international lawyers were joined by their Cambodian counterparts.

Deputy Co-Prosecutor William Smith called the behavior of the defense “completely illogical” and suggested that a replacement defense team for Khieu Samphan be used.

Judges at the tribunal ordered that reserve lawyers be appointed for Khieu Samphan in December last year, following a monthslong boycott of the second phase of Case 002 by the defense teams for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

Shortly after the walkout, Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn adjourned the hearing for the day.

“The chamber cannot proceed because the two defense teams… have boycotted the proceedings,” he said.

Lars Olsen, legal affairs spokesman for the court, said by telephone that the standby lawyers were an option, but that no decision had been made to use them.

“[The] Trial Chamber has informed the parties they will resume the hearings tomorrow morning at 9 a.m.,” Mr. Olsen said. “The defense teams will be given an opportunity to explain the rationale and legal basis for their actions.”

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Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that WRI stands for written records of investigation. It stands for written records of interview.

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