'Terror's advocate' Jacques Vergès dies at aged 88

 

Jacques Vergès, the flamboyant lawyer who earned the nickname the “Terror's advocate” for his defence of former Nazis, terrorist bombers and notorious dictators and their aides, has died of a heart attack aged 88.

Widely regarded as one of France's most brilliant, if provocative, lawyers, Vergès made a name for himself by accepting clients spurned by others as impossible to defend.

His high-profile client list included former Gestapo chief Klaus Barbie and Marxist militant Carlos the Jackal.

Mr Vergès died on Thursday in the Parisian house where 18th century philosopher Voltaire once lived, according to his publisher Pierre-Guillaume de Roux.

“Like Voltaire, he cultivated the art of permanent revolt and volte-face,” his publisher said in a statement.

Vergès was born in Thailand in 1925 to a French father and Vietnamese mother and grew up on the French-ruled Indian Ocean island of La Reunion, where the family moved after his father lost his job as consul because he married a foreigner, something forbidden at the time.

In the 1960s, Vergès defended Algerians fighting for independence at a time when an end to French rule in the North African possession was violently opposed by certain sections of French society.

As a Communist student leader, Vergès befriended Pol Pot, leader of the Khmer Rouge which was responsible for the genocide in Cambodia in which 2.2 million people died.

Vergès baffled his countrymen by agreeing to defend Klaus Barbie, head of the Gestapo in the city of Lyon who was twice sentenced to death in absentia for war crimes.

When Barbie fled France in 1944, Vergès was marching to liberate Paris with de Gaulle's Free French forces.

“If he (Barbie) had been at the end of the barrel of my gun, I would have shot him,” Vergès told Reuters in an interview in 2002. “Now I am simply doing my job as a lawyer.”

“I would have defended Hitler,” Vergès once said. “Defending doesn't mean excusing. A lawyer doesn't judge, doesn't condemn, doesn't acquit. He tries to understand.”

Other high profile clients included Lebanese militant Georges Ibrahim Abdallah and former Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, and he also gave legal advice to ex-Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic.

For some of his critics, Vergès' client list meant his hands were as soiled as those of the people he defended. In 2007, a French documentary about his life dubbed him the “Terror's Advocate”, a nickname that stuck.

“He died in the very room where Voltaire took his last breath,” said de Roux. “It was an ideal place for the final act of this born performer.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Martin of Coldplay performs live for fans at Enmore Theatre on June 19, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)
music
Sport
Dave Mackay lifts the FA Cup in 1967 having skippered Spurs to victory
football
Life and Style
Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin
historyOne woman's secret life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
News
Jihadi John
newsMonikers like 'Jihadi John' make the grim sound glamorous
Arts and Entertainment
As depicted in Disney's Robin Hood, King John was cowardly, cruel, avaricious and incompetent
film
Life and Style
Travis Kalanick, the co-founder of Uber, is now worth $5.3bn
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Media Sales Executives - B2B

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Genius Ltd continue...

Recruitment Genius: Online Media Sales Trainee

£15000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you have the right attitude,...

Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Client Services Executive - Enfield, North London ...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn