PHNOM PENH — Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal announced Tuesday it will suspend trial sessions until January, bowing to pressure from lawyers of one of the two defendants charged with genocide.
A tribunal statement said hearings would resume Jan. 9, deferring to threats of a boycott by lawyers of Khieu Samphan, who said it was unfair to proceed while they are still working on appealing the verdict in his first trial. The tribunal met briefly Monday before suspending proceedings. That hearing itself, at which it had planned to begin witness testimony, had already been delayed several weeks.
Khieu Samphan, the 1970s regime’s head of state, and Nuon Chea, right-hand man to the communist group’s late leader, Pol Pot, received life sentences in August after being found guilty of crimes against humanity. Some 1.7 million people are estimated to have died from starvation, disease and execution due to the group’s extremist policies.
The tribunal said it was impractical to replace Khieu Samphan’s lawyers without causing even more delays, even though it had found that his defense team was obstructing proceedings.
It did not, however, ruling out appointing additional lawyers or taking actions with legal professional organizations regarding the counsels’ conduct.
The U.N.-backed tribunal split the cases into two trials for fear that Khieu Samphan, 83, and Nuon Chea, 88, could die before complete proceedings against them could be finished. In addition to genocide against minorities, the second trial will address for the first time accusations of rape and forced marriages.
Nuon Chea’s team had also sought a delay on separate grounds.
After years of legal and political wrangling, the Khmer Rouge tribunal was established in 2006, but has been plagued by corruption, mismanagement, and financial woes. The hybrid structure of the court, in which UN-appointed international judges and lawyers share duties with Cambodian counterparts, has led to allegations of political interference and repeated deadlocks.