The Khmer Rouge tribunal has capitulated to a sustained boycott of Khieu Samphan’s genocide trial by his defense team, adjourning proceedings until next year so the lawyers can prepare an appeal against his recent conviction for crimes against humanity.
Proceedings in the second phase of Case 002—in which the Khmer Rouge’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan, and Pol Pot’s second in command, Nuon Chea, are facing charges including genocide—have sputtered as his defense team remained stubbornly absent since staging a walkout on October 17.
Khieu Samphan’s lawyers have consistently said they will not participate in the hearings until after filing their appeal brief, which is due on December 29. With no more than six trial dates remaining in 2014, Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn on Monday conceded that there was no other option but to postpone substantive hearings until after that date.
“[A]ny effort to replace Khieu Samphan’s defense team at this time will result in a substantial delay in the trial. The reason for this is that there are no attorneys available at this time who are familiar with the voluminous case file and could take over at short notice,” Judge Nonn said during a hearing at the tribunal Monday.
“As a consequence, the chamber has no reasonable alternative but to adjourn the case until January 2015.”
Judge Nonn went on to lambast the lawyers for their actions, saying they had been given adequate time to prepare for both the trial and the appeal, with trial days reduced from three days a week to two.
“The chamber considers that the real problem is the Khieu Samphan defense’s lack of allegiance,” he said. “As one example, both international lawyers for the Khieu Samphan defense are currently in Paris, where they have law offices. This is at a time when their full attention should be to this case in Phnom Penh.”
Khieu Samphan’s national co-lawyer Kong Sam Onn described the decision as “a small victory,” saying the defense team would return to the courtroom for proceedings on January 8.
“We do have commitment to defend Khieu Samphan in the hearings,” he said in an email. “However, we have to ensure that the Trial Chamber won’t continue abusing its power.”
In response to a threat by the Trial Chamber to refer the team to the bar associations of their respective home countries, Khieu Samphan’s international co-lawyer, Anta Guisse, said they had not taken the decision to boycott lightly.
“The question of Defence before an international Court is a very important issue. It’s not [just] about being in robe and be present in court,” she said via email.
Long Panhavuth, a court monitor with the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said he hoped the chamber’s latest concession marked the end of the episode.
“I think the delay…may put aside the problem of the argument that they don’t have resources to do both [the appeal and trial],” he said. “But I’m afraid that the defense team may use this tactic again to delay the substantive hearings.”