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Ex-Khmer Rouge leader fires international lawyer while awaiting vedict

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] announced Friday that former Khmer Rouge leader Kaing Guek Eav [case materials; JURIST news archive], more commonly known as "Duch," has fired his international lawyer, just weeks before the court is expected to render a judgment in the case. Kaing cited a lack of confidence [AFP report] in the international lawyer, stemming from a disagreement between the international lawyer and Kaing's local lawyers over how his defense should proceed. Kaing originally cooperated with the ECCC and repeatedly apologized to his victims and their families, as his defense attempted to obtain a lighter sentence for the accused leader. The defense strategy abruptly changed in November, when Kaing unexpectedly asked to be released from ECCC custody [JURIST report] on the basis that he had not committed any crimes. The rift between the lawyers was evident during closing arguments when one lawyer argued that his client was not guilty and the other asked for clemency based on his cooperation and contrition. If Kaing is found guilty, he will serve 40 years in jail, so long as this departure from his earlier cooperation does not return him to the maximum sentence of life imprisonment [LAT report]. The ECCC has announced [press release, PDF] that Kaing's judgment hearing will be held on July 26.

Kaing is the first of eight ex-Khmer Rouge officials expected to be tried before the ECCC, which recently announced the establishment of an independent counselor to oversee anti-corruption efforts [JURIST reports]. In August, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] asked the ECCC to determine the scope of its prosecutions [JURIST report] "to thwart growing perceptions that court decisions are directed by the government." In February 2009, HRW warned that ECCC trials were in danger of being tainted for their failure to follow fair trial standards, and, in January 2009 a Cambodian court agreed to hear a corruption case [JURIST reports] involving two ECCC judges.

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