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Lawyer Glitch Postpones Nuon Chea Hearing

Jailed Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea successfully argued for the delay of the first tribunal hearing against him Monday, convincing judges he did not have a foreign lawyer legally qualified to represent him.

“May I respect the ECCC,” Nuon Chea said, addressing the tribunal by its official acronym, for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. “I am Nuon Chea, a defendant. My opinion is that, why is there a hearing today, when I only have one Cambodian co-lawyer, not in line with international standards? Therefore, I think that there is no justice. I need to have two lawyers, according to the law of this court. If there is only one Cambodian lawyer, and there is no foreign lawyer, [he] cannot defend me at this time. I ask the court to postpone.”

The judges agreed, along with other court jurists and outside observers.

Dutch lawyer Victor Koppe has not been admitted to the Cambodian bar, making him ineligible under tribunal regulations, which requires a defense team of at least one Cambodian and foreign lawyer.

Koppe violated the rules of the courts when he petitioned for the removal of a tribunal judge ahead of the hearing, without having been sworn in by the Cambodian Bar Association, the Associated Press reported.

Pre-trial co-prosecutor Chea Leang said the postponement decision was “very appropriate,” adding that the prosecutors “respect the rights of the accused, as stated in the law.”

No new hearing date was set, but pre-trial judge Prak Kimsan said he would expect communication from Nuon Chea’s primary foreign defense attorney, Michiel Pestman, who has not yet arrived in Cambodia.

“Please, guards, take the defendant to the detention center,” Prak Kimsan ordered after the decision.

Prior to the hearing, victims of the Khmer Rouge regime gathered outside the tribunal facilities, on the outskirts of Phnom Penh.

Um Pum, 77, from Kampong Speu province, said the delay would not change the ultimate outcome of Nuon Chea’s trial.

“Go ahead with the procedure,” said Um Pum, who lost 16 family members to the regime. “When he can find a lawyer, even 20 of them, he will still be sentenced. His lawyers cannot defend him.”