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Tribunal Weighs Needs of Defendants, Victims

Decisions by the Khmer Rouge tribunal Thursday on Nuon Chea's detention and the rights of victims to participate in hearings highlight a fine line judges are now walking.

On the one hand, they must respect the rights of the defendants, to fair and speedy trial; on the other, they must fulfill the needs of the country, of national reconciliation in the face of one of the worst atrocities of the 20th Century.

A panel of judges said Thursday that civil parties can join in every hearing of a defendant's process. In doing so, they put a value on national reconciliation for civil parties.

Judge Prak Kimsan said the participation was necessary for investigations and as part of national reconciliation.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, cited the decision as proof of the quality of the tribunal courts.

Civil parties are the victims that can join a hearing after they file a suit with investigating judges, tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said.

The participation of the civil parties can provide psychological compensation and common compensation, he said.

A defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, Son Arun, said he did not disagree with allowing civil parties in certain hearings, but participation should be distinguished where the civil parties can only join hearings in the prime case.

"I do not oppose, but they should not participate and make a protest in the penal case," he said.

In the case of his client, they should have observed only the pre-trial release hearing, and not participated, he said, and should not have been allowed to suggest Nuon Chea not be released.

On the other hand, Youk Chhang said, "It is very interesting that the civil parties can join the hearings, and it explains some quality of the tribunal that depends on the participation of the citizen."

"But this participation must be limited by the co-judges or by representatives" of the parites, he said.