What should a defense lawyer do if she knows her client is guilty? If a court monitor witnesses a rights violation, should he disrupt the trial? Why have none of the defendants at the ECCC been charged with genocide?
Cambodian university students asked these and many other questions to an international panel of lawyers at Pannasastra University on Tuesday. The discussion, focused on fair trial rights, drew several hundred students and addressed both the domestic Cambodian courts and the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Co-moderator Ray Leos, a law and communications professor at Pannasastra University, said Cambodian courts were most troubled by corruption and lack of competence.
“There’s a new generation of judges that I think will be much more competent,” he said. “There’s been small progress in terms of corruption. Both are critical. Even if a judge is competent and knows the law, corruption undermines it,” he said.
Panelist Pen Rany, head of the Center for Social Development’s legal unit, said she was most concerned about the right to a lawyer and abuses of pretrial detention.
“Access to lawyers has improved this year, but pretrial detention has not,” she said.
Panelist Anees Ahmed, senior assistant prosecutor for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, told the students that the Khmer Rouge tribunal could set a positive example for Cambodian courts, especially with regards to presumption of innocence and other rights of the accused.
But fourth-year law student Soy Kimsan, 22, said he was worried that in other ways, the ECCC might set a negative example.
“They talk about the right to a speedy trial, but in the Duch case, they detained him almost 10 years already,” he said.
“Even the law students don’t understand the delays,” he added. “My mother, my father, who were victims, don’t understand the ECCC at all.”
Before the discussion, the students watched part of “Time for Justice,” a film designed to explain ECCC procedures.
Soy Kimsan said he learned a lot from it.
“The movie did a really good job of explaining, but it’s a bit too late,” he said.
“Most of the people right now don’t trust [the tribunal]. I think the people who work in the ECCC are professional and work very hard, and I think we will get a fair trial in the end. But if you don’t make the people understand, the ECCC’s work is useless,” he added.
(Additional reporting by Prum Seila)