Several of the Cambodian judges and prosecutors appointed by the government to the Khmer Rouge tribunal defended their reputations Tuesday, but expressed concern at their lack of preparedness for the upcoming trials.
Speaking at a public discussion in Phnom Penh organized by the Open Society Justice Initiative, academics and defense attorneys also expressed concern about the quality of legal defense that will be available to former Khmer Rouge leaders.
During the discussion, Chuon Sun Leng, a reserve co-prosecutor in the tribunal, said that despite some UN legal training, which he found inadequate, he and his colleagues still do not have basic information about how investigations will be conducted.
“The number of victims are in the millions, how will the cases be compiled? Will the government order the judicial police to do the investigations?” he asked.
Chuon Sun Leng, who is currently deputy prosecutor at the Supreme Court, said he has not yet received notification of when he would receive training in the procedures of the tribunal.
“I attended the two training sessions by the UNDP and the lecturer only talked about theory not about practice and when we asked about the Cambodian law they said they are international experts not experts in Cambodian law,” he told participants.
Later, he said that since the trial will be based on Cambodian law, he was concerned that international judges needed to be trained in Cambodian legal practice.
Chuon Sun Leng said he does not mind the criticism that has been leveled against Cambodian appointees regarding their independence and qualifications. “As a judicial professional, I will be able to maintain my independence and put my feelings aside,” he said.
Military Court President Ney Thol, who will serve on the tribunal’s pre-trial chamber, also said that despite being a member of the ruling CPP’s central committee, he would remain independent. “I work based on the law, I don’t do politics,” he said. “No person or politics will control us.”
With very little evidence, Ney Thol last year sentenced Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy to seven years in prison for forming a so-called “shadow army” at a trial during which he did not allow the defense to present witnesses.
“One human being is never right all the time…. We are happy with the criticism; criticism is also medicine,” Ney Thol said.
The tribunal’s Supreme Court reserve judge Mong Monichariya also said that the UNDP training offered last year was insufficient, and he urged joint training with international personnel for the trial.
He declined to say whether he had political affiliations, and said that his education in the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan would not be an impediment to his performance on the trial.
“Communist [education] or not, in the end the perpetrators will be in prison all the same, not in a hotel,” Mong Monichariya said.
Chief of public affairs for the tribunal, Helen Jarvis, said the government’s appointees have not been notified about training because no date has yet been set for it.
Heather Ryan of the Open Society Justice Initiative said her NGO on Monday sent co-prosecutor Chea Leang and co-investigating judge You Bun Leng to The Hague, Netherlands, for a two-week training course at the Institute of International Criminal Investigation.
During the discussion, James Goldston of the OSJI and German Ambassador Pius Fischer debated the need for, and cost of, foreign legal counsel for the tribunal.
Goldston said parity was required between the international prosecution and the defense. But Fischer said past international war crimes trials have incurred enormous costs due to the inclusion of international defense counsel.
Cambodian Defenders Project Executive Director Sok Sam Oeun said that he would welcome foreign defense counsel at the tribunal. However, the Cambodian Bar Association Law would have to be modified to allow them to practice in a Cambodian court.
Defense lawyer Ang Udom said that he undertook training for 30 defense lawyers held by the UNDP, and that he was concerned that too little attention had been paid to the question of defense for those indicted, which he said was key to differentiating the tribunal from a show trial.
“We would welcome international participation because we are not at the war crimes tribunal level yet and we need to learn,” he said.
He said that potential defense attorneys already feel disadvantaged.
“The prosecution and judges are already exercising their muscles and we do not know what is going on at all, we haven’t heard anything,” he said.