KR Victims Get Narrow Pre-Trial Right To Talk

Victims too poor to pay a law­yer may address the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s largely technical pretrial hearings but must ask for permission to speak at least 10 days in advance, the Khmer Rouge tribunal said Aug 29

However, the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber on Aug 28 said it had no reason to reconsider its July decision silencing civil party Theary Seng, who had sought to speak in person at all but one of the pretrial hearings held since February.

Over defense objections, the court in March granted civil parties the right to participate in pretrial hearings, which do not consider guilt or innocence but in­stead matters such as jurisdiction and bail, often involving technical legal arguments.

The Chamber said in May that to strike a balance between victims’ rights and the need for speedy trials, only civil party lawyers, and not their clients, should be allowed to speak at the hearings. However, lawyers for civil parties later argued that, as the court does not currently pay for victim representation, this would be unfair to victims without lawyers.

In its Aug 29 directions to civil parties, the Pre-Trial Chamber said lawyers were best able to talk about pretrial matters “since only the lawyers for the parties may access the factual material on the case file, and civil parties will in most cases not have legal training.”

“Recognizing the right of the victims to truth and justice, in such circumstances, a legitimately unrepresented civil party may be permitted to address the court in person,” the directions said.

Sarah Thomas, a legal fellow at the Documentation Center of Cam­bodia, said Aug 29 that the court had struck the proper balance between allowing civil parties to participate in proceedings and preventing this from slowing down the process.

“It’s a very positive decision,” said Thomas, who had helped three unrepresented civil parties argue that they should be allowed to speak. “The judges have clearly done a good job in balancing victims’ rights and the concern, which is that civil parties could abuse their procedural rights.”

However, in its Aug 28 decision on Theary Seng’s request, the Chamber said Theary Seng and civil party lawyers had repeatedly sought permission for her to speak despite being told that this would not be allowed.

“The Pre-Trial Chamber finds that no new facts, arguments or changes of circumstance have been put forward,” the five-judge panel said in a unanimous decision. “Further, the civil party Theary Chan Seng has not de­monstrated that the decision has, in its effects, caused her an unexpected result leading to an injustice.”

Theary Seng did not respond to requests for comment. An associate said Aug 29 she was traveling.

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