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Open Letter to Reporters and Commentators
“Witness” vs. “Civil Party”
Phnom Penh, 13 January 2012
I would like to draw your attention to the news articles and commentaries, especially of the past weeks' coverage of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, whereby reporters and commentators alike refer incorrectly to victims currently testifying in the Trial Chamber as "civil parties".
They are witnesses; they are not testifying in their capacity as "civil parties", a very important technical, legal distinction with consequences.
One of the consequences is the continuing exploitation and dis-empowerment of victims by this KRT, one of the main reasons for my withdrawal from this political farce. Repeating mindlessly the vacuity being spun by this KRT for public consumption does not help the cause of the victims.
(A “civil party” only existed in the creative, progressive mind of the drafters of the Agreement establishing the KRT, had a very painful birth during the first couple of years of its operation, followed by a state of comatose after it instituted the Lead Co-Lawyer regime which stripped a “civil party” of any real life.)
Another consequence questions the raison d’etre—quality and presence—of the inexperienced Lead Co-Lawyers (who proudly refused to meet directly with any civil party) and the platoon of 40 intermediary civil party lawyers, also inexperienced and 30 of whom are foreigners who are not based in Cambodia but at their respective home offices in Paris, California, Singapore etc., (except for the lawyers from Advocats Sans Frontiers who rotate in-out from France every 3 weeks).
The civil party lawyers' presence obfuscates what is an already complex mixed (national-international/political-legal/ common-civil law) structure; propagates self-interestedly the legal sleight-of-hand; and assists unwittingly the propaganda of heralded “unprecedented” civil party participation.
All to say, Cambodian victims would do well without these lawyers' presence as this would peel away some layers of the confusion, complexity and deceit surrounding the KRT. The access and quality of victim participation would not change, as it is as a “witness” and not “civil party” that s/he is participating directly, meaningfully, currently in the KRT.
Remember, Mr. Vann Nath participated as a “witness” and not a “civil party; he never applied and became a “civil party”.
Up till now in Trial Chamber hearings of Case 002, there have been no victims who are heard as "civil parties" (even if they are recognized on paper as such), only victims as "witnesses".
Stated simply, a party is not a witness; a witness is not a party. And a civil party is a "party", so s/he cannot be a witness at the same time.
To call them "civil parties" is misleading and legally incorrect vis-a-vis the ongoing court proceeding. It is also dis-empowering the civil parties in particular and the victims in general.
Theary C. Seng
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