Lawyers for former S-21 chairman Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, filed notice yesterday with the Khmer Rouge tribunal that they would appeal the judgment issued last month that found him guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 35 years in prison.
In the appeal, lawyers said they would ask for Duch to be acquitted of all charges and set free, claiming the tribunal has no jurisdiction over him. They argued that Duch should be treated as a witness to the regime and that his detention by the court should be considered “witness protection.”
The tribunal is mandated to try “senior leaders and those most responsible” for crimes committed during the Pol Pot regime. The defense lawyers argued in their appeal notice that Duch fit into neither of these categories.
“In reality, in light of his official functions at the relevant time, the accused does not fit into the category of persons under the jurisdiction of the ECCC,” they wrote. They also accused the court of “applying victor’s justice” in choosing to prosecute Duch.
Although Duch was not a senior leader of Democratic Kampuchea, he presided over the deaths of an estimated 14,000 prisoners during his time at the helm of S-21. David Scheffer, a former US diplomat who helped draft the rules that created the ECCC, said in November that the court’s framers had considered Duch “the no-brainer candidate for most responsible.”
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser for the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said last week she saw little legal basis for a jurisdictional appeal, which she said should have been made before trial proceedings began last year.
“It seems here like a political statement,” she said, “maybe speaking to the Cambodian people about the fact that [Duch] has been targeted whereas so many others in his position are walking around free. I can only think that would be more what they’re getting at, because legally I don’t see it going anywhere.”
Also yesterday, lawyers for a third group of civil participants in the trial gave notice that they would appeal the rejection of their clients as civil parties. Thirteen other participants have already appealed their rejections.