Khmer Rouge lawyers to boycott Cambodia genocide trial until convictions appealed

Former Khmer Rouge national assembly chief Nuon Chea, known as 'Brother Number Two', is seen on a television screen in the media room at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) during his trial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Oc
Former Khmer Rouge national assembly chief Nuon Chea, known as 'Brother Number Two', is seen on a television screen in the media room at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) during his trial on the outskirts of Phnom Penh on Oct 17, 2014.  -- PHOTO: REUTERS

PHNOM PENH (AFP) - Defence lawyers for two former Khmer Rouge leaders said on Saturday they would boycott a new genocide trial until they appealed the pair's earlier conviction, in a move which threatens to delay an already lengthy case.

In August, Nuon Chea, 88, known as "Brother Number Two", and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 83, were given life sentences for crimes against humanity after their first trial at Cambodia's United Nations-backed court. That ruling saw them become the first top figures to be jailed from a regime responsible for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians from 1975 to 1979.

Both men lodged appeals against the convictions last month but their lawyers said Saturday they needed time to file the full appeal documents. "As long as we have not filed appeal brief, we won't be able to attend" further hearings, said Mr Anta Guisse, Khieu Samphan's lawyer, after a press conference in Phnom Penh.

It is the first time defence lawyers have staged a boycott of the special court, set up in 2006 to try senior regime figures, in a move which could further prolong the trial. "Our boycott will not paralyse the court because we have a clear timeframe, it is until we finish our appeal, around two months," claimed co-defence lawyer Kong Sam Onn, adding they also sought a decision on a motion to disqualify the court's judges, who both former leaders accuse of bias.

The complex case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan was split into a series of smaller trials in 2011 in a bid to get a faster verdict for reasons including their advanced age and the large number of accusations.

The August convictions followed a two-year trial focused on the forced evacuation of around two million Cambodians from Phnom Penh into rural labour camps and murders at one execution site.

On Friday, prosecutors opened their arguments in a second, broader, trial in which the pair are charged with genocide as well as further crimes of humanity and war crimes.

The court was adjourned after Nuon Chea threatened the court with a boycott and the defence teams of both accused later stormed out.

"As long as a decision (by) the special penal (court) is not coming, we will not continue with these proceedings," said Mr Victor Koppe, Nuon Chea's lawyer, on Saturday, adding they also wanted time to appeal his first conviction.

Led by "Brother Number One" Pol Pot, who died in 1998 without ever facing justice, the Khmer Rouge dismantled modern society in their quest for an agrarian utopia.

Nearly a quarter of Cambodia's population was wiped out by starvation or execution.

A spokesman for the UN-backed court said on Saturday the tribunal would shortly "issue a judicial decision which will address the behaviour of the defence lawyers".

The Khmer Rouge court has been hit by chronic cash shortages - relying almost entirely on foreign donations - ever since its inception as well as being dogged by allegations of political interference.