The eligibility of 24 civil parties to the Khmer Rouge tribunal was at the heart of court proceedings yesterday, when the defense team argued that lawyers had submitted insufficient proof that family members had died at S-21 prison.
In a speech justifying his team’s challenges, defense lawyer Francois Roux said yesterday that the tribunal was “bound to achieve excellence” in its landmark use of civil parties, and must do everything in its power to ensure that civil parties have valid complaints.
“We are the first international tribunal to have accepted civil parties. We have fought over a period of fifteen years in order to arrive at this situation,” Roux said. “We have obtained this result, but please let us not spoil this result.”
On Tuesday, the defense team for S-21 prison chairman, best known as Duch, announced challenges to the civil party applications of 26 people, claiming that the case files contained insufficient documentation to prove kinship with victims at S-21.
Between the close of proceedings on Tuesday and yesterday morning, civil party lawyers submitted documents concerning some of the parties in question. Defense lawyer Marie-Paule Canizares said yesterday that Duch’s team had reviewed five of those cases, and withdrawn their objections regarding two.
Yesterday, Ms Canizares presented, one by one, her team’s objections to 18 of the civil parties, complaining that, “There is very little in the case file. Nothing to establish a kinship between the plaintiff and victim, nothing to establish kinship to the victim, and further, the name of the victim cannot be found on the list of prisoners at S-21.”
Civil party lawyers largely responded to the defense’s challenges by explaining that they were searching for the relevant documents—some of which had already been located and were shown to the court—and had asked their clients to provide certification of kinship links to victims.
In a catch-all speech addressing the defense’s concerns, civil party lawyer Fabienne Trusses-Naprous said that many of the documents demanded by the defense have been destroyed or lost in the 30 years since the fall of the Khmer Rouge.
“I believe that it cannot be challenged that the archives at S-21 are incomplete,” she said. “It is impossible for us to say…that just because we cannot find any traces of proximity links…that these people have never been detained nor smashed at S-21.”
She continued to say that official identification documents aren’t always available to prove close relationships between civil parties and the alleged victims of S-21.
“Certain civil parties cannot provide registration documents because they did not exist or have disappeared,” Ms Trusses-Naprous said.
She added that civil party lawyers were seeking signed affidavits from people close to their clients as proof of kinship.
Court proceedings adjourned at lunchtime yesterday, in order to make way for an in-camera discussion amongst the chamber’s judges, and hearing of the defense challenges is expected to continue today.