Defense lawyers demand removal of Cambodian judge from UN-backed tribunal
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) - A Cambodian judge must immediately be removed from the U.N.-backed tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders because of his dubious judicial record and political background, defense lawyers say. The lawyers are objecting to Ney Thol, a judge who sits on the tribunal's pre-trial chamber that will hold an appeal hearing Feb. 4 for Nuon Chea, the former Khmer Rouge ideologue
Ney Thol must be immediately disqualified not just from the upcoming hearing but from all future proceedings because his «continued presence on the bench threatens to undermine the credibility and integrity» of the entire tribunal, said Victor Koppe and Michiel Pestman in a motion received Wednesday.
Five senior Khmer Rouge figures, including Nuon Chea, whose radical policies led to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people in the 1970s, were arrested last year and are being held in the capital, Phnom Penh, on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Their trials are to start this year.
The two Dutch lawyers said that as an army general heading a military court and a member of Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling party, Ney Thol «is neither independent or impartial.Ney Thol declined to comment Wednesday.
Ney Thol is a member of the central committee of Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party and president of the military court. He is best known for convicting two political opponents of Hun Sen for national security-related crimes.
In 1998 Ney Thol sentenced Prince Norodom Ranariddh, leader of the royalist Funcinpec party at the time, to 30 years in jail for weapons smuggling and conspiring with outlawed Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The trial was mainly prompted by Hun Sen's desire to neuter his main political rival, whom he had already ousted from his position as co-prime minister in a 1997 coup.
In a 2005 trial widely regarded as politically motivated, Ney Thol sentenced an opposition lawmaker to seven years in jail for trying to form an armed group to topple the government. Ney Thol was criticized for his conduct of the trial, in which he barred the defense from calling its own witnesses to testify and not giving it enough time to cross-examine those from the prosecution.
Both Hun Sen's political rivals were later freed by royal pardons. Ney Thol's «participation in highly questionable judicial decisions would lead a reasonable observer, properly informed, to reasonably apprehend bias against Nuon Chea,» the lawyers said.
Nuon Chea is scheduled to appear before a pre-trial hearing Feb. 4. He is appealing against his provisional detention at the tribunal, which has charged him with war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The charges are related to his alleged role in the Khmer Rouge atrocities that led to the death of some 1.7 million people when the communist movement held power in Cambodia in 1975-79.
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