Former KR President Khieu Samphan and his French lawyer Jacques Verges have a history that is as long as Cambodia's independence itself
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2008 02:37:34 -0700 (PDT)
French lawyer for Khmer Rouge leader challenges tribunal, triggering
The Associated PressPublished: April 24, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A French lawyer known for his provocative style
and infamous clients has taken center stage at the tribunal for
Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge leaders, challenging the judges and
adding to the woes of an already troubled court.
The aggressive stance taken by Jacques Verges at an appeal by former
Khmer Rouge President Khieu Samphan for release from pretrial
detention augurs possible new hurdles for the tribunal, plagued over
the past few years by political wrangling, corruption scandals and
Conflict within the defense team surfaced Thursday when Khieu
Samphan's other lawyer, Cambodian Say Bory, urged the Frenchman to
tone down his provocative style.
"If he doesn't, it could be the end for him ... and then what would
happen to the case?" Say Bory said. "I want this to move forward."
The long-delayed U.N.-assisted tribunal seeks justice for the
estimated 1.7 million people who died from starvation, disease,
overwork and execution as a result of the communist Khmer Rouge's
radical attempt to build a classless society when it held power in
1975-79. Khieu Samphan has denied responsibility for the atrocities.
But the spotlight in a pretrial hearing Wednesday was on the 83-year-
old Verges, who triggered a delay with an outburst over the court's
failure to translate thousands of pages of documents into French.
Verges is every bit as controversial as the people he defends, going
back five decades to Algerian freedom fighters accused of terrorism.
He was the subject of a feature-length documentary film last year,
His past clients include Nazi Gestapo officer Klaus Barbie and French
collaborators, Venezuelan terrorist Carlos the Jackal, various
Palestinian hijackers, former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic,
and confessed serial killer Charles Sobhraj.
He has also looked after the interests of Saddam Hussein and several
brutal African dictators, but has represented some true underdogs as
well, mainly working-class citizens from France's ethnic minority
Verges was born in northeastern Thailand to a French diplomat and a
Vietnamese mother, a union said to have hurt his father's career. He
has suggested his ethnic background has made him sympathetic to
underdogs and outcasts.
Verges has said he likes to employ what he calls a "rupture" strategy,
questioning the legitimacy of the court and accusing it of being a
tool of injustice.
On Wednesday he described the tribunal's case against Khieu Samphan as
"invalid from the start."
Verges and Khieu Samphan, 76, have said they have known each other
since they both were active in left-wing student activities in Paris
in the 1950s.
The tribunal has charged Khieu Samphan with crimes against humanity
and war crimes, detaining him since last November.
Wednesday's closed-door hearing on Khieu Samphan's appeal was abruptly
adjourned when Verges refused to continue, protesting that the case
file had not been translated into French.
"French is an official language of the tribunal. There is not one page
of the case file against Mr. Khieu Samphan translated into French,"
Verges explained afterward to reporters. "I should be capable of
knowing what my client is blamed for."
The judges suggested Khieu Samphan might want to appoint a new lawyer
to represent him — and then adjourned the hearing.
"I have been a lawyer for 50 years, it is the first time I have seen
judges ask an accused to change his lawyer. This is a scandal!" he
said. "This never happens except in dictatorships!"
The tribunal's judges said in a statement late Wednesday that they
will "issue a warning" to Verges for courtroom behavior causing the
One of the Cambodian prosecutors, Chea Leang, acknowledged to
reporters that the tribunal is facing difficulty translating documents
for all its cases into its three official languages — Khmer, English
But she said Verges' refusal to participate in the hearing was
"unreasonable" because the proceedings were not part of the actual
The long-delayed tribunal is expected to hold its first trial later
this year. Many fear the Khmer Rouge's aging leaders could die before
being brought to justice. Four other senior former Khmer Rouge are
being held for trial.
Khieu Samphan has blamed the late Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot for the
group's policies, including decisions to purge many Khmer Rouge cadres
suspected of being disloyal or spies.
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