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Khmer Rouge leader hearing adjourned

Latest update : 2008-02-04

Cambodia's genocide court postponed Nuon Chea's detention hearing Monday following a row over his legal representation. Pol Pot's deputy was arrested in September and charged with crimes against humanity.

Cambodia's genocide tribunal postponed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea's first public court hearing Monday amid a row over his legal team, raising concerns for further delays to the UN-backed proceedings.
  
The tribunal was scheduled to hear an appeal against Nuon Chea's pre-trial detention.
  
But a key member of his defence, Dutch attorney Victor Koppe, has yet to be admitted to Cambodia's Bar Association, a requirement for foreign lawyers wishing to represent tribunal defendants.
  
"The pre-trial chamber decided to adjourn the hearing to a later date and ordered the lawyers of the charged person to submit a written report about the presence of the international lawyer," the judges said.
  
Nuon Chea, the senior-most of the five Khmer Rouge cadres to be arrested so far, argued earlier in the day that going ahead without Koppe would violate international standards of justice.
  
"It is not consistent with international standards. I believe that if these proceedings go ahead, it is not fair to me," the 81-year-old regime ideologue told tribunal judges.
  
Nuon Chea, who was Khmer Rouge supreme leader Pol Pot's closest deputy and the alleged architect of the regime's devastating execution policies during its 1975-1979 rule, was arrested in September and charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
  
No new date has been set for his appeal, the judges said.
  
"It's regrettable that it's been postponed," said co-prosecutor Robert Petit.
  
"Any delay in this court is regrettable. Any delay in getting at the truth in this matter and justice for the victims is regrettable," he added.
  
Had the hearing been held, it would have marked only the second public hearing since the tribunal was convened 18 months ago.
  
"The delay does not satisfy us," said Cambodian villager Huy Chhum, one of the hundreds of spectators who gathered in the tribunal's main courtroom to watch the hearing.
  
"So many delays will make villagers lose faith in the court and then it is meaningless," said the 75-year-old whose wife, brother and son perished under the regime.
  
Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed by the Khmer Rouge, which dismantled modern Cambodian society in its effort to forge a radical agrarian utopia.
  
Cities were emptied, their populations exiled onto vast collective farms, while schools were closed, religion banned and the educated classes targeted for extermination in one of the 20th century's worst atrocities.
  
All of the former Khmer Rouge leaders currently in custody are elderly and ill, and there are fears they could die before being put in the dock.
  
Cambodia's genocide tribunal was convened in 2006 after nearly a decade of fractious talks between the government and United Nations.
  
But it has been badly hampered by delays amid infighting among foreign and Cambodian judges as well as attempts by the Cambodian Bar Association to assert its authority over foreign defence lawyers.
  
The conflict over Koppe arose last week when the Bar refused to admit him after he signed a court motion seeking the dismissal of one of the pre-trial chamber judges, Ney Thol.
  
In his motion, Koppe accused Ney Thol, who is president of Cambodia's military court, of being "neither independent nor impartial."
  
Bar officials said Koppe had signed the court documents before they swore him in, violating the rule that foreign lawyers wishing to represent tribunal defendants must be accepted by them before conducting court business.
  
Koppe said following the adjournment that he felt that there was "a relation between the motion for (Ney Thol's) disqualification and the sudden stopping of the swearing-in ceremony."
  

Date created : 2008-02-04

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