Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Lawyers for civil parties request new preliminary investigations in Duch case

By Stéphanie Gée

Lawyers for the victims who registered as civil parties to the first trial due to open at the Khmer Rouge tribunal – that of the former chief of interrogation centre S-21, Duch – have requested the launch of “immediate and serious” supplementary investigations to document the crime of forced marriage organised under the control of Duch. They filed this request last week with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), after collecting evidence that at least one mass wedding was organised in a re-education camp that was directly subordinated to Duch. Their submission was made public in a press release on Saturday February 14th.

Such mass weddings took place in the entire country under the Khmer Rouge leadership. The lawyers recalled an estimated 400,000 men and women were married in group weddings. They also claimed that their request for new preliminary investigations “[would] not delay the trial”of Duch. They argued that the crime of forced marriage “has been recognized as a new, separate crime against humanity for the first time in an international(ized) tribunal by the Special Court of Sierra Leone in a landmark decision in February 2008.”

“I think the trial will stretch over several months and the supplementary investigations we are demanding can be carried out in parallel to the trial,” Silke Studzinsky, co-lawyer for civil parties, reckoned.

Asked for his reaction to this new request, co-Prosecutor Robert Petit explained on Monday February 16th that he was unable to make any comment, as the office of the co-Prosecutors had not received any copy of the submission. For his part, François Roux, co-lawyer for Duch, specified that the civil party lawyers had not notified them of their request and wondered about this way of “bringing suit by press release.” “I consider this request to be void. So, every time a new fact is discovered, is it going to be referred to the co-Prosecutors? Come on. You cannot try Duch every six months,” he exclaimed.

According to him, a request for supplementary preliminary investigations means stopping the trial. “It is well-known that it was impossible to cover everything. So, it was decided to have a pre-trial investigation period that does not last ten years (…) and we have all accepted a short pre-trial investigation so that trials can take place as soon as possible,” he said.

The French lawyer called all the parties to focus on the issues* that will be addressed on Tuesday February 17th during the initial hearing prior to Duch's trial, and was keen to clarify that “[We] are in a judicial process, not judicial harassment.” François Roux added that “[T]he impending trial is important enough for everyone to try and keep their head. I want us to work out something sustainable. We are in what is called 'transitional justice', something delicate and with an ambitious goal: restoring social links, with no quarrels. We are dealing with important debates and we must not lose ourselves in secondary rows. (…) If we want these proceedings to reach their end, we have to act accordingly.”

In addition, he recalled that there has already been one year of inquiry by the co-Prosecutors, followed by a year and a half of pre-trial investigation period, and stated that time-frames must be respected and his client has waited the start of his trial for ten years. “What is happening is akin to sacrificial ritual, which I do not like at all.” The court will offer the first instance when victims participate as civil parties to the trial in an internationalised court and “one must be careful not to dig one's own grave,” Lawyer Roux argued. “It has already been very difficult to manage to get their participation accepted, so let us not give it the kiss of death.”

* The initial hearing will discuss technical issues, such as the admissibility of civil party applications or lists of witnesses and experts that each party would like to submit.

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