In a strongly worded appeal last week, lawyers representing people claiming to be victims of the Khmer Rouge secret police said the Khmer Rouge tribunal had violated its own procedural rules in rejecting nine of their clients as civil parties.
As the verdict in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, the former chairman of S-21, was read out on July 26, 24 people learned that the court had not recognized their claims of victimization.
In their motion filed Aug 24, the team of lawyers for Civil Party Group 1, which represented nearly 40 people, said judges had unfairly created new, more stringent criteria and used them retroactively to assess civil party applicants.
The civil party lawyers also argued that the Trial Chamber was wrong to adopt a two-step process for admitting civil parties, offering them provisional admission at first and then ruling a second time to confirm this.
The lawyers charged that “in none of the decisions granting status as civil parties were these victims or their lawyers told that they were only being conditionally admitted as civil parties in Case 001 pending the satisfaction of additional criteria.”
Although the nine alleged victims in question had all been granted such interim recognition as victims and were allowed to participate fully in the Duch trial, many were later rejected for lack of evidence of dependency or emotional ties to a person interned at S-21. In the appeal, their lawyers pointed out that these criteria do not appear in the court’s internal rules.
Lars Olsen, legal affairs spokesman for the tribunal, said last month that none of the victims had been formally considered a civil party until the judgment was issued on July 26. Until then, he said, all 90 victims who participated in the trial were merely “civil party applicants.”
In an April ruling, the five judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber were split on the key question of whether a victim can be rejected as a civil party after already having been given a lawyer and access to the proceedings.
The chamber’s president, Prak Kimsan, and Rowan Downing said then that a two-step admissions process was “fundamentally procedurally unfair” as it was not provided for under existing laws.
Although some victims provisionally admitted in Case 002 were also later rejected, a recent rule change means that all admissions decisions must now be made before indictments are issued in September.
This would avoid some of the difficulties encountered in Case 001, including the last-minute rejections that lawyers said re-traumatized their clients after they had invested “a tremendous amount of time, expense and emotional well-being by lending their support to the tribunal.”