KRT Judges Vow ‘Firm Action’ if Boycott Persists

Judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have once again ordered the defense teams for Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan to end their boycott of the current trial, telling them to show up for the next day of hearings later this month or face “firm action.”

On their clients’ instructions, lawyers for the two Khmer Rouge leaders walked out of court last month on the first day of substantive hearings in the second phase of their trial for war crimes and genocide.

Nuon Chea says the judges who convicted him and Khieu Samphan in the first phase of the trial are irredeemably biased and wants them replaced. Khieu Samphan says he cannot simultaneously defend himself in the second phase of the trial and appeal his conviction in the first, and he wants the current hearings postponed.

In a ruling dated Friday and released by the court Monday, the tribunal’s Trial Chamber dismisses both arguments. It orders the defense teams to show up for hearings on November 17 and adds that the chamber “will take firm action should either fail to abide by the order to appear in court.”

The judges do not specify what action they might take. In a request to the Trial Chamber last month, prosecutors proposed that the defendants be assigned new lawyers if their current defense lawyers boycott any more hearings.

Kong Sam Onn, one of Khieu Samphan’s lawyers, said the chamber’s latest order had not changed his client’s mind about the boycott.

“We won’t attend the hearing,” he said. “We believe we have a strong stance to defend our position. If the court wants to abuse its power, it can do whatever it wants.”

Victor Koppe, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, said the legal team were not ending their boycott of the trial either, but would reconsider once the tribunal’s Special Bench ruled on their request to have the judges dismissed no later than next week.

The Special Bench is a panel of judges specially convened by the court to consider Nuon Chea’s dismissal request. The Trial Chamber could not rule on the request because Nuon Chea is seeking the disqualification of four of its judges.

Mr. Koppe called the Trial Chamber’s latest ruling “deeply flawed.”

“[I]t doesn’t address the fact why the Trial Chamber couldn’t have the courtesy to simply wait for a decision of the Special Bench on our disqualification motion,” he said. “This motion addressed many fundamental legal problems, and waiting was just the proper thing to do.”

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