Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:45 | SYDNEY
Saturday 09 Oct 2021 | 19:45 | SYDNEY

Lawyers raise ghosts from Cambodia past and present

4 March 2009 09:05

As the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, or ECCC) moves at glacial pace to bring the five defendants held in custody to trial, there has been a development that many commentators had envisaged as likely but which has only now become a reality.

Lawyers for Nuon Chea, known as Brother Number Two and the Khmer Rouge regime's chief ideologue, have now filed documents with the ECCC calling for the appearance before the tribunal of Prime Minister Hun Sen, President of the Senate and Chairman of the Cambodian People's Party Chea Sim, and former king and briefly Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea (DK), the now King Father Norodom Sihanouk.

The intention of this action is clear enough, with Nuon Chea's lawyers seeking to gain advantage from the fact that both Hun Sen and Chea Sim worked with the Khmer Rouge before they defected to Vietnam, in 1977 and 1978 respectively. Sihanouk's association with the Pol Pot regime was much more complicated, as he sought revenge for having been ousted by the coup d'etat of March 1970 and resigned from his powerless position as Head of State in April 1976 a year after Pol Pot and his associates gained power.

Why, the defence lawyers are likely to ask, have individuals such as Nuon Chea been put on trial when at the highest level of the Cambodian Government there are men who also served the Khmer Rouge regime?

The legal tactic being adopted by Nuon Chea's lawyers was widely expected to be used by the French celebrity lawyer representing Khieu Samphan, who succeeded Sihanouk as the DK Head of State. This is Jacques Verges, the defender of Klaus Barbie and 'Carlos the Jackal'. It may still be that Verges will follow suit. He has, in any event, already sought, unsuccessfully, to delay the court's procedures by insisting that all documents be translated into French and engaging in tirades against the legitimacy of the tribunal.

While the trial proper of Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, the man who had charge of S-21, the Tuol Sleng extermination centre, will get under way later this month, there seems little prospect that the trials of the remaining four individuals held in custody will begin until next year. Duch has made clear that he will mount a 'Nuremburg defence', claiming that he acted under orders and that to refused them would have led to his death.

But so far Nuon Chea and the others in custody (Khieu Samphan, DK Foreign Minister Ieng Sary, and Khieu Tirith, DK Minister for Social Affairs) have shown no inclination to use such a defence. Instead, as Nuon Chea's lawyers have now shown, they are likely to seize every means to draw  attention to the fact that former Khmer Rouge figures continue to occupy senior positions in the Cambodian Government.

Photo courtesy of the ECCC.