Blog/defence

Meet the Court: Ms. Noyel Ry, Case Manager, Defence

The Meet the Court series of the Public Affairs Section was started with a goal: to highlight and celebrate the diverse stories and backgrounds of the people who contribute their knowledge and skills to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

In light of the court's continued efforts to achieve its objectives, everyone's role and impact here at the ECCC matters.

Meet Ms. Noyel Ry, a smart and driven professional whose dream of making a lasting impact in her own country through the justice system has led her to work for the Defence team here at the ECCC.

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I like working with intelligent and humble people from all over the world because they always keep me inspired. I like seeing ‘real people’ – villagers and students coming to the court to observe the proceedings. It is important that they do this and important that they know that we, the ECCC employees, are people just like them, and that we are no different. - Ms. Noyel Ry

This is a woman with a great vision, someone who finds great light and hope in doing even her most basic work tasks.

Get to know Ms. Noyel Ry's passion for her work and the valuable contributions she makes through this Meet the Court feature:

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1. Can you please tell me more about your academic and professional background?

Certainly! I studied law at Build Bright University in Phnom Penh. I have been serving in my role as a Case Manager for the IM Chaem Defence Team at the ECCC since March 2014 – nearly two years now.

2. It's interesting to know that you are working for the Defence team. What exactly do you do?

I actually get to do a diverse range of tasks as a Case Manager. On a typical work day, I get to organise and maintain electronic and hard copy folders of relevant submissions and correspondence, file pleadings, facilitate communication with the client and other team members, provide assistance and support to the Co-Lawyers and everyone else in the team, and supervise national interns and junior Cambodian consultants while they do their respective work assignments. I am also very happy that I get to conduct legal and factual research, in particular on evidence that are only available in the Khmer language, translate, review, and edit submissions in Khmer, and liaise with court officials and other institutions as necessary.

3. What motivated you to work here at the ECCC?

Two major reasons inspired me to work at the ECCC: (i) My personal interest in fairness and the rule of law and the fact that the work that I do for the court benefits individuals and the Cambodian justice system; and (ii) my curiosity about Cambodia’s history.

(i). I started to get involved with the ECCC proceedings when I worked for the Asian International Justice Initiative as a court monitor. This job had me sitting all day long in the main gallery of the courtroom almost every week when the Case 002/01 proceedings were ongoing. The significant amount of time I spent observing the court proceedings made me wish that more Cambodian people, particularly law students, could also follow the proceedings. I was impressed by how the parties presented their cases with enthusiasm and how they engaged themselves in genuine debates during hearings. I was particularly fascinated by the arguments made by Defence teams, which I rarely hear in domestic court proceedings. Though there were times when I found myself being very emotional every time I would hear testimonies from witnesses and Civil Parties, I eventually learned to put aside my personal feelings and remain neutral given that the weekly reports I had to produce require an objective view. As a Cambodian, I am proud to work in such a special court where not only justice should be ensured for all the parties, but the true historical record is also secured for Cambodian’s younger generations. The ECCC is a place where I continue to gain knowledge on court procedures and due legal process. I feel so significant here because I get to be a part of delivering justice to all.

(ii). My other strong motivation is related to my own personal curiosity on the true history of my own country, which has often been very confusing. To me, the history of one’s country is part of human life, and therefore it should be revealed to its people so that they know what actually happened. Despite working in this position for about two years now, I still have so much to learn about Cambodia’s history. As a Case Manager, part of my role is to review evidence, help analyse and verify facts, and assist the legal consultants when they draft submissions. I am very grateful to work with very brilliant and enthusiastic lawyers and colleagues who always make me feel involved and show me how important I am in bringing the case this far.

4. You have very commendable motivations. What makes you feel fulfilled then in your current capacity as a Case Manager?

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The most rewarding part of my job is the satisfaction that I receive from fulfilling my tasks. I feel like every time I get to review the translation of filing documents very well, verify the accuracy of evidence perfectly, organise the Case File with the support of my valued international colleagues consistently, and communicate with the client and other people as needed promptly, I am already doing my own humble way of helping the Cambodian society achieve the justice, fairness and reconciliation that it deserves. I have always been an open-minded person who adds value to the team by being very actively involved in order to help my colleagues thrive. I am a hard worker who is honest and accountable to my job. However, I cannot and will not be able to fulfil my role effectively without the very strong support of my team, especially when works has to deal with Khmer language; my National Co-Lawyer provides valuable feedback to ensure appropriate terms are adopted in official documents.

5. In what ways do you think you are contributing towards the achievement of the court’s objectives?

I believe that the experiences that I gained from working directly in this case will enable me to effectively protect the rights of all as well as enhance my future working career in the legal field where justice and fairness need to be ensured. The ECCC has made me realise that the role of the Defence is extremely important in criminal cases – without it there will be no rule of law and no proper legal system.

On a daily basis, I strive to be highly accurate in doing my work and I always keep the team informed about the latest case developments—both positive and negative—because doing so would better equip my team in providing legal advice in any given situation. I also ensure the accuracy of filings or submissions so that key information is not lost in the legal process. I also facilitate communications between the team and court officers as well as persons and agencies outside of the court so that there will always be smooth collaboration among people and that cultural differences do not lead to miscommunication or misunderstanding. I always have a few terms in my mind while I work: accuracy, correctness, fairness, justice (in compliance with international standards), search for true Cambodian history, and remembrance of the gaps and areas that the domestic courts in Cambodia should fulfil or apply in the future. For me, these are the thoughts that all young Cambodians should have in mind when delivering justice in the domestic system.

6. How important is your role as a Case Manager in your section?

I would say that my role is essential to the team as a whole because I am a key person who can provide support immediately to the co-lawyers and legal consultants. This is necessary for the entire team to ensure that work is properly dealt with on the case. Given that my major daily task is to provide case support to the team, I think that “trust” is necessary to build a strong team spirit so that every staff member would feel comfortable working together. If there was to be a lack of trust between the case manager and team members, then there would be a breakdown in communication and therefore the case could not go forward.

7. What keeps you driven to do your valuable work here at the tribunal?

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There are many things! I like working with intelligent and humble people from all over the world because they always keep me inspired. I like seeing ‘real people’ – villagers and students coming to the court to observe the proceedings. It is important that all citizens – no matter who they are – know and feel that they are real beneficiaries of this justice process. It is important that they do this and important that they know that we, the ECCC employees, are people just like them, and that we are no different. When I got the chance to pass by them, I wanted to show to them that the people who work at the court are not intimidating at all and that I am also one with them. I also like the surroundings here at ECCC. I like the small canals filled with water and the big open space in the middle of the compound – it gives me a view and makes me feel like I am not in an office all the time. And I like having lunch with the other Cambodian people because the food they bring from home often taste like what my Mum makes!

8. What is your advice to those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Future and current law students and other aspiring legal professionals should get practical experience by obtaining internships at the court so they can get a chance to observe actual proceedings. Internships provide actual hands-on work that can help them decide on what they wish to do professionally in the future. This hybrid tribunal, in particular, is a very unique court that is filled with lots of smart, experienced legal professionals who can provide so much experience and knowledge to those who wish to work in this field. I personally decided to skip going overseas to study or commit to any other plans because I know that I would get to contribute to my country and to my own future better by taking part in building this country through the Cambodian justice system.

Meet the Court: Mr. Victor Koppe, Defense Counsel for Nuon Chea

What motivates someone to be a defence lawyer? How do you justify working for someone accused of crimes such as genocide and mass murder? These are the questions we have been trying to ask members of the defence team at the ECCC over the last couple of weeks, in an attempt to try to provide greater insight and accessibility to court proceedings, and the work being done.

Victor Koppe has a history representing alleged perpetrators of atrocities, and he is currently co-lawyer for Nuon Chea. The Dutch lawyer describes working at the court, as “frustrating”, and, at times, “deeply disappointing because of its blatant unfairness”. In this context, what makes him do what he does?

“My strong interest for the history of Cambodia. That will never go away. It still excites me”, Koppe describes himself as feeling like a bit of a history nerd, watching certain witnesses on the stand. He first read about the Khmer Rouge, around 35 years ago, within the context of the Cold War and the Western fear of communism, and his fascination with this period, trying to understand what happened, still motivates his work on the case.

Also, his loyalty to Nuon Chea keeps him here. “Especially in the last eight months, not a day goes by, where I don’t think, that’s it, I’m going”, says the Dutchman. However, Koppe believes strongly in loyalty to his client, not just as a defence lawyer, but also because he is personally convinced by the historical arguments in the case.

What does Nuon Chea hope to achieve in the trial? “Not a full acquittal. He accepts his fate, behind bars, for the rest of his life, but he wants, as he says, the head and the tail, and not just the body of the crocodile to be revealed. By this he means, he wants the rest of the history to be revealed; not just painting him, Pol Pot and the regime as 100 per cent black, but trying to understand what happened, within the context of what occurred, including the devastating US bombing of Cambodia, and the Soviet-backed aggression of Vietnam”, says Koppe.

Koppe’s work also entails posing confronting and tough questions to witnesses and civil parties who lost family members during the Khmer Rouge regime. How does he do it? “Just because someone tells a terrible tale, it does not mean we should per definition believe them”, Koppe explains. “And it is important to remember that this is a court of law, and not a truth and reconciliation commission”.

He suggests that witnesses are too readily believed, and that the level of questioning of witnesses is very simplistic. “It is pretty taboo to question someone’s death, especially in the context of alleged genocide, and mass murder”. However, Koppe holds firm that the questioning of witnesses and victims is necessary to determine what really happened, and to what extent his client was really involved.

Koppe believes that there is a “Standard Total View” of history (a term coined by the historian Michael Vickery) within the context of the trial, and that the opinions of three or four historians from the 1980s and 1990s are being rebooted, as the only correct ones. “People tend to come here with a view of what happened, already in their head, and they stick to that, rather than challenge its accuracy. There should be a much more fierce analysis of the facts, rather than just believing this outdated standard view of history, and what some witnesses say on the stand.”

Koppe’s personal involvement with the trial runs deep, and he speaks of turning to history, rather than law, when the trial is over; writing his own history book of what happened, or maybe a biography of Nuon Chea. “There hasn’t been enough work on this period”, he argues. “Whereas with the history of Nazi Germany, libraries exist for kilometres covering all the books, with the history of the Democratic Kampuchea Period, there is only one small shelf.” He intends to do something about this, and wishes the trial would be more formative, in complying with the truth-seeking measures he hopes for; questioning the status quo history, and painting a more accurate picture of what happened.

In a country where many people have already concluded that his client is guilty beyond any doubt, he has not experienced any problems with telling people what he does for a living. “Not with Cambodian people”, he says. “Everyone in my street knows what I do, and they are generally supportive”. According to Koppe, only Western people tend to assume that he is representing what is wrong, and denying the Cambodian people their truth.

Koppe says his work is for his client, the Cambodian people, and also for the international community. He believes in challenging the status quo of what happened, however taboo, and seemingly disrespectful that may be. His mission is to push for a legal truth, which is as close as possible to the historical truth; having thoroughly questioned, and stringently analysed, all the evidence. 

Although some may describe him as a bit of a black sheep during the trial, presenting evidence and questioning witnesses, to create “fantastical stories” and hold back trial proceedings, he presents himself as doing the opposite. He is questioning the trial proceedings and questioning witnesses to provide an accurate picture of what happened.

He is not questioning that many people were killed or that his client had a very significant role in the Democratic Kampuchea regime; but he questions the way his client is being presented, and how the truth is presented, during the trial, and in history.

Emma Loffler

Public Affairs Intern

Khmer Rouge Tribunal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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