A Day at the KRT

I never imagined that my first exposure to live courtroom drama would be at an international trial for a genocidal regime, but as my experience in Cambodia has taught me, things here never go as expected.

Today, I attended the appeal hearing for Khieu Saphan, also known as Hem, at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC or Khmer Rouge Tribunal, for short). He served as head of state of Democratic Kampuchea (a.k.a. the Khmer Rouge). You can read more about the hearing here, as I'm not going to attempt to report on what I saw. (There's still so much for me to learn in terms of legal reporting.)

To say that today's proceedings were "drama" would be a real exaggeration as I was nearly put to sleep by the repetition and formalities. I mean, the prosecuting co-counsel's reiteration of the court reports detailed by the judge at the beginning of the hearing would work better than any sedative. Nonetheless, the courtroom was full of interesting characters.

So you have several actors in this little play:

1. The Judges - There are five of them. They are wearing red robes and reign above the courtroom (literally). They are seated alternately - national,international - and huddle together a lot for game plan discussions.

2. Civil Party Lawyers - There's an outrageous number of them - 15 or so - but only 8 showed up today. They wear black robes. Except for some surprise interjection that the judges rejected, they remained silent today.

3. Prosecutors - One national and one international (from Belgium). Purple robes. The Cambodian representative, like I said, a real yawner. The Belgian representative raised interesting points, but this could just be a perception thing since his translation seemed much better. I'm still unsure who they represent.

4. Defense Lawyers - Again, one national and one international. Black robes. Interesting fellows. The Cambodian counsel had intriguing and emotional body language that differs from the usually stiff mannerisms that accompany most Cambodian speakers I watch. The French counsel is a real treat - the infamous Jacques Verges, who is known for his controversial cases including the representation of Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbie. He even befriended Pol Pot in college (at least according to Wikipedia). This guy is eccentric to say the least.

5. Khieu Samphan - The defendent himself. Regular clothes. He's been charged with crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. He is tired of sitting in a jail cell all day and wants to be released on bail. According to his defense lawyer (or at least the poor translation that accompanied him), he's scared of losing his life but as he potentially faces spending the rest of his life staring at cinder blocks, he's willing to take that risk.

So I might not understand the complexities of this UN-backed trial and there's a lot of controversy behind it's implementation and purpose (such as tens of thousands of dollars that have gone towards who knows what) that I won't go into. However, I found watching the interaction of the key actors to be extremely intriguing.

For example, how co-prosecutors interacted with each other versus how the co-defenders interacted with each other was interesting. The prosecutors I would say shared their "moment in the spotlight" equally, while Monsieur Verges allowed his counterpart to handle the wrangling.

Khieu Samphan was just sad to watch. I know he was a member of this torturous regime, but sitting there in that courtroom, he was a person. His face remained expressionless, almost bored, and I couldn't help but wonder if he pictured his life ending up like this. He's a highly intelligent, French-educated man. Did he know when he disappeared into the jungle all those years ago that he would come out a murderer? Did he even have a choice in the matter or was it an instance of a hopeful idea blown out of control? Is it possible for this human being to have believed in the genocide he helped carry out?

So many questions, so few answers, but it was an educational event. I hope I will have a chance to attend one of the public hearings of Duch, chief official at the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison, who has already received much international media coverage.

In other Cambodian news, more guns were fired near the Preah Vihear temple over land rights. (Although, more recent reports allude to the idea that this was a "misunderstanding.") Quite an exciting day in this little country, to say the least.

1 comment:

Crys said...

I was covering a murder trial once in college (Michigan) and that was crazy. Crazy but really exciting at the same time.