Jacques Verges, the French defender for former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, was issued a warning by the Khmer Rouge tribunal Wednesday after the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber said he had halted a bail hearing in violation of the rights of his client.
The event called into question the future of the team defending Khieu Samphan, with his Cambodian defense lawyer, Say Bory, saying he may ask his client whether to replace Verges.
Verges and Say Bory had been due to argue that Khieu Samphan, detained by the tribunal on suspicion of war crimes and crimes against humanity, should be declared not guilty as he had no real authority during the Khmer Rouge regime.
However, in the closed-door hearing Wednesday, Verges told the court he could not participate as the 16,000 pages of documentary evidence against his client have not been translated into French, one of the court’s three official languages.
No other arguments were heard.
Verges told reporters after the hearing that in light of his refusal to participate, the court’s judges had advised Khieu Samphan to seek new counsel.
“It is an unique scandal,” Verges told reporters.
“I can understand that the tribunal should ask Mr Khieu Samphan to change lawyers since the proceeding directed against him has been null from the start,” Verges said. “His detention is illegal since it was ordered based on documents to which his lawyers did not have access.”
In February, Verges said the defense would cease all cooperation with the court’s co-investigating judges so long as the translations had not been performed.
Verges said at the court Wednesday that he would complain to the UN Human Rights Council and to French authorities “to tell them of the contempt with which French is treated before this tribunal.”
In a four-page decision released Wednesday afternoon, the five-judge Pre-Trial Chamber unanimously decided to adjourn the hearing until further notice and noted that Verges had signed pleadings filed at the court without mentioning any difficulty in reviewing the evidence against his client.
“No indication had been given to the Pre-Trial Chamber between the time of filing the appeal brief and the day of the hearing that there was any potential difficulty in proceeding,” the judges wrote.
Court rules stipulate that, after a warning, misconduct may cause a lawyer to lose rights of audience or to be stricken from the list of lawyers approved by the Cambodian Bar Association, the decision stated.
“As a consequence of the behavior of the International Co-Lawyer…a warning is given to him…as he has abused the processes of the Pre-Trial Chamber and the rights of the charged person,” it said.
The judges also said that if collaboration between the defense lawyers became impossible, for linguistic or other reasons, the defendant may request a new lawyer.
Following the hearing, Say Bory said Verges had not informed him of his intention to refuse to participate on the ground of translation and that he had been too busy to talk to Verges after the hearing.
“I was ready to argue. I didn’t know he was going to do that,” Say Bory said. “I was surprised.”
Continued collaboration depended on Verges, he said.
“It remains possible, but it depends on the attitude of Verges,” Say Bory said, adding that if Verges persisted in demanding the complete translation of all documents, he would ask Khieu Samphan whether the defendant preferred a different international lawyer.
“At that point, he will have to give me his views on the participation of Mr Verges,” Say Bory said.
Khieu Samphan, however, who first met Verges as a student in Paris in the 1950s, did not yet want to change lawyers, he said.
“I know he doesn’t want to change,” Say Bory said.
Reached by telephone following the hearing, Verges said he had deliberately chosen not to seek a delay ahead of Wednesday’s hearing and rejected the Pre-Trial Chamber’s rebuke.
“I cannot seek a delay. I don’t know what my client is accused of,” he said. “It is not the tribunal that will give me a lesson in ethics.”
Say Bory had perhaps failed to take note of his plan to announce his refusal to participate, Verges said.
“He listened to me with a discreet ear, but no matter. I am an independent lawyer,” Verges said. He declined to respond to questions about Say Bory’s possible intention to ask Khieu Samphan whether to replace him, and then hung up.
Speaking to reporters at the court Wednesday, Senior Assistant Prosecutor Alexander Bates said all of the court’s offices had access to multilingual staff.
“There are native Khmer speakers at each level of this court and in each office and I note as well that the documents are in the same language of the charged person’s own nationality,” Bates said. “Of course, all the documents should be translated into all languages if possible.”
Tribunal translator Kong Sophy said the prosecution’s central document, the introductory submission of over 100 pages outlining prosecutors’ allegations, had been made available in all three languages.
“I cannot accept what the co-lawyer Jacques Verges said, that even a single document has not been translated into French. I cannot accept it at all,” he said.
However, the great mass of supporting documents has not been translated, he said.
“The introductory submission, we’ve translated it all but somehow we need time, we need means and especially…you know the Cambodian side, we have problems with the budget issue,” he said.