The international half of Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea’s defense team, Dutch attorney Michiel Pestman, became the third foreign member sworn in to the Bar Association of the Kingdom of Cambodia Thursday morning.
A member of the Amsterdam bar since 1994, Pestman joins Cambodian attorney Son Arun in defending Nuon Chea, who is facing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
Judges Samreth Sophal, Oum Sarith, and Pak Chansambo presided over the 10-minute ceremony, held in an airy courtroom packed with people waiting for their cases to be heard by the Court of Appeal.
Pestman donned a brown linen suit and rode a bicycle to the court. He has represented clients before the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Court of Justice, but this is the first time he has had to join a local bar association.
“I would have loved to be a member of the Freetown bar,” he said in an interview after the ceremony. “This feels like a warm welcome.”
The greatest impediment to justice he foresees in Cambodia is lack of funds for the tribunal, he said. “That’s always the problem-and the independence of the judiciary,” he said.
His client, like all the defendants, must also contend with the burden of history. The court of public opinion has had 30 years to sift through reams of publicly available, apparently incriminating information about top Khmer Rouge leaders.
“The question is whether he’s able to get a fair trial when history has already judged him,” Pestman said. “I have my serious doubts about that. How can judges contradict what history has already decided?”
“We cannot say he is Brother Number Two until that is established by judges,” he added. “For most people he’s already convicted. For me, he isn’t.”
Nuon Chea was arrested November 19. The appeal hearing for his detention will be held February 4th and will be open to the public, said Richard Rogers, the tribunal’s deputy defender.