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Tribunal Orders New Defense for Recalcitrant Khieu Samphan

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Khieu Samphan, former Khmer Rouge head of state, gestures as he sits in the court room U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, file photo.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has ordered the appointments of two defense attorneys to represent jailed leader Khieu Samphan and break through an ongoing boycott of proceedings.

The Trial Chamber ordered the Defense Support Section of the UN-backed court to appoint one international and one Cambodian “standby” lawyer for Khieu Samphan, who has refused to attend hearings that he says take away from his team’s ability to prepare an appeal to a guilty verdict he received earlier this year in the first of two trial phases.

“The Trial Chamber took this action as a result of its finding that the conduct of Khieu Samphan and his defense counsel over the last two months, including the failure to appear in court, obstructed proceedings,” the chamber said in a statement. “The Chamber has taken this action with a view to preventing such obstruction from occurring again.”

The role of the lawyers, called standby counsel by the court, “will be to prepare and maintain the capacity to take over the defense of Khieu Samphan should the Trial Chamber determine it to be necessary,” the chamber said. “Standby counsel would be independent of the current defense team, and they will not consult or take instructions from the accused Khieu Samphan unless and until ordered to do so by the Trial Chamber. They are to attend all hearings in Case 002/02 and familiarize themselves with the case file.”

Tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the appointments would “ensure that the trial process is moving forward, even if there is no presence of Khieu Samphan’s lawyers.”

However, Kong Sam Onn, a Cambodian defense lawyer for Khieu Samphan, said the court’s action threatened his client’s right to a fair trial. “For our team, we will join the trials, and there is nothing to delay, as long as the court, for example, does not violate the rights of Khieu Samphan.”

The court has allowed the appeal in the first of two phases, he said. That phase found Khieu Samphan guilty of atrocity crimes and sentenced him to life in prison. The second phase, which had been scheduled to begin in November, will now begin again in January.