As I’ve mentioned previously, I spent a bunch of last month hanging out at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia, observing Case 002, the trial of Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, and Khieu Samphan for Khmer Rouge atrocities.
It’s an interesting experience sitting in the audience, watching a mass atrocity trial while surrounded by the victims of that atrocity. I ended up being about as absorbed by the interaction between the security personnel and the Khmer Rouge victims in the public gallery than by the actual proceedings in the courtroom. (Also, in the three years since I stopped actively practicing law, I’d sort of forgotten just how dull court can be, no matter how interesting the subject matter of the trial.)
Setting aside (as much as I can), the substantive legal issues under discussion, here’s a brief sample of the experience watching the proceedings:
July 20, 2012
9:02am: The Trial Chamber explains that the Prosecution will wrap up its examination of expert witness David Chandler (author of a number of books on Cambodian history) this morning before turning things over to counsel for the Civil Parties.
9:07am: Security guard tells me I can’t sit with my legs crossed. Ookay. Feet on the floor, eyes straight ahead.
9:22am: I decide “Revolutionary Flag” would be a really awesome band name.
9:44am: Security guard makes victims stop leaning on the backs of the seats in front of them, sit up straight.
9:47am: I decide “The Three Ghosts” would be an even more awesome band name.
10:28am: The expert witness complements S-21 prison head Duch’s “wonderful” handwriting.
10:35: The Trial Chamber breaks for coffee.
10:53: Proceedings resume.
10:57am: I take the desk out of the seat arm in order to put my notebook on it, 3 security guards panic, hover suspiciously over me as I write.
11:02am: National defense counsel for Ieng Sary objects to the witness’s reference to an S-21 confession, argues that this is torture-tainted evidence that cannot be used under international law. I am confused, as the intention of the prohibition is surely not to protect torturers from having evidence of their torture presented. (More on this later.) It turns out it doesn’t matter, because the reference is actually to a letter written prior to interrogation anyway. Yeesh.
11:15am: Counsel for the Civil Parties begin their questions.
11:27: Security guard yells at two victims for sleeping, makes them sit up. I’m an actual international lawyer writing a dissertation on international criminal tribunals and I can barely stay focused. I can’t imagine how bored these Cambodians from the provinces are…
12:03: International counsel for Nuon Chea states that his client is suffering from a headache, back pain, and a lack of concentration, and will not be returning to the courtroom for the afternoon’s proceedings. (This happens every day, and every day I think “Me too, dude. Me too.”)
12:15pm: Trial Chamber breaks for lunch.
1:32pm: Proceedings resume.
2:13pm: Counsel for the Civil Parties asks the witness whether there are any historical events comparable in scale to the April 1975 forced evacuation of Phnom Penh. The witness responds that there’s nothing similarly severe in recorded history, but he “can’t speak for the Mongols.” That seems like good sense. We should never try to speak for the Mongols.
2:20pm: Security guard tells victim to sit with his legs closer together. Man, these guys have highly specific leg position requirements.
2:28pm: A very confusing digression about the Milgram experiments occurs. Everyone is perplexed, especially the national defense counsel for Ieng Sary who, unsurprisingly, can’t place the name “Milgram.”
2:37pm: Security guard scolds victim for putting his arm up on the back of the chair next to him. Apparently arm position is also important.
2:44pm: Trial Chamber breaks for coffee. I am suffering from a headache, back pain, and lack of concentration, and decide to go home.
Note: If you’re interested in the latest developments in Case 002, the transcripts are up on the ECCC’s website.