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Head of Tribunal Victim Unit Under Fire

Defense lawyers and monitors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal are unhappy with the Australian head of the Victims Unit, which is responsible for outreach and help for civil parties at the UN-backed court.

“The head of this unit should be Cambodian, and the Cambodian government should replace her,” said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent research group.

Helen Jarvis, who had headed public affairs operations at the court and recently moved to the Victims Unit, is also facing charges of political bias. Tribunal officials say they will hold a press conference on the matter Wednesday.

In a press conference last week, Micheal Pestman, lawyer for “Brother No. 2” Nuon Chea, said that a lack of impartiality by Jarvis, who is a former adviser to the government, affected the fairness of the tribunal.

“It will be a danger for the proceedings,” said Ang Udom, a defense lawyer for former foreign minister Ieng Sary. “We must think that Mrs. Jarvis is connected with policy in Cambodia and in her country. Will she be able to maintain independence?”

Jarvis declined to comment, saying the matter “will be handled by the court.”

Jarvis was moved to replace Keat Bophal, who resigned from the Victims Unit earlier this year. Jarvis was also a member of the government task force to establish the tribunal.

“We can’t be at the same time head of Victims Unit, an adviser to the government and a member of the task force,” Youk Chhang said.

A non-Cambodian in charge of victims will have problems “because of cultural and language problems,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Jarvis was the right person for the job. “She is capable,” he said. “She can speak Khmer, English and also French.”