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Written by Student Rights on 3 February 2012 at 5pm

Jacques Verges cancels SOAS event

The difficulty in finding lawyers to defend cases of crimes against humanity, often caused by a moral reluctance on the part of members of the legal profession, has led to the creation of a small group of people who actively seek out these cases.

One such individual is Jacques Verges, a French lawyer whose last case involved defending the former Khmer Rouge Head of State Khieu Samphan who is currently on trial for war crimes. He has also defended Klaus Barbie, the notorious Nazi war criminal, international terrorist Carlos the Jackal and provided legal advice to Slobodan Milosevic after his arrest. He is famed for divisive legal tactics, including attacking French torture in Algeria as well as dismissing the genocide in Cambodia in an interview with De Spiegel.

He also offered his services to Saddam Hussein and has said “I would have defended Hitler” despite fighting for Charles de Gaulle’s Free French units during World War Two. This sort of statement, along with his close ties to Neo-Nazis like Francois Genoud and the lines of defence he takes has led many to criticise him for legitimising the views of those he defends.

Verges was due to speak at the School of Oriental and African Studies today before a combination of protests and illness led to him cancelling his appearance. Dennis McShane MP had said of Verges that he is “an ageing sensationalist who has links with some of the most repellent ideas and individuals on the far right, who have sought and seek to justify, excuse or avoid retribution for evil acts”.

His booking had also been criticised by the Union of Jewish Students whose Campaigns Director Dan Sheldon stated that “It beggars belief that just a week after Holocaust Memorial Day a man who has done so much to abuse the memory of the Holocaust has been welcomed onto  a British campus”.

Despite this controversy, SOAS only yesterday released a statement concerning this event. This silence led to a senior lecturer at the university saying that “I am very disappointed that no statement has been made by the SOAS lecturers’ union as well as by the students’ union. While they have always been quick to react to events in the Middle East, their silence on this occasion has been deafening”.

The response from SOAS to this has been less than reassuring, the short statement given today merely stating that Verges “has developed bronchitis and has been advised by his doctor not to travel to London. As a result he has had to withdraw from the ‘International Justice’ event”.

Here at Student Rights we are firm supporters of the right to a fair trial for anyone, regardless of their crime, and feel that to condemn a lawyer simply for defending someone is a dangerous path to tread. However, in the case of Verges, his deliberate seeking out of brutal dictators and terrorists, along with his controversial defence tactics such as a dismissal of the genocide in Cambodia, it is possible to suggest that he may have crossed the line. It is certainly true that his invitation to SOAS upset many students, and ultimately it is probably for the best that he will no longer be appearing.