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Cheap justice at the Extraordinary Chambers

The Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh. The only member of the Khmer Rouge to be convicted of any crimes so far is Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch.

I write in response to statements made by tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen in the article entitled “Former Cadres in Complaint” (Phnom Penh Post, April 4, 2011) which I find simultaneously perplexing and amusing, highly offensive, extremely misleading and completely incorrect in his understanding of legal procedure:

United Nations court spokesman Lars Olsen called Theary Seng’s allegations premature and irresponsible. “The court will not be bullied into confirming or denying speculation about a confidential investigation… This is a reckless act which shows a complete disregard for judicial due process and principles of law.”

Mr Olsen is responding to the filing of my application to the Office of Co-Investigating Judges via the Victims Support Section as a civil party in Cases 003/004 against former Khmer Rouge military commanders Meas Muth and Sou Met in the Extraordinary Chambers (ECCC).  

First, Mr Olsen’s use of the phrase “the court will not be bullied” is not only unfortunate, but deeply perplexing and outright amusing. I expect these words from the Cambodian personnel, but not the UN spokesman of the Extraordinary Chambers which purports to give victims a greater historic voice as “Civil Parties”.  

Also, it was the courageous UN prosecutor Robert Petit who initiated at great energy Cases 003/004. Instead of encouraging us in this regard, Mr Olsen employs theatrical language to ridicule and undermine.  

I had to chuckle upon reading these words as images arise of a petite Cambodian woman in stilettos intimidating the hundred-million-dollar institution situated on a military compound of flowing robed judges, vainglorious prosecutors and high-minded lawyers with their six-figure salaries, possessing all the knowledge, all the power of information and resources under the banner emblazoned loudly “UN”.

I have been forthright in stating that in addition to the main reason of demanding a greater measure of justice in honorable, loving memory of my parents, my relatives and the lives of 1,700,000, I am lodging this complaint publicly in hope to give life to these Cases of 003/004 made dormant by overt political interference and UN lethargy.

For too long, the ECCC Office of Co-Investigating Judges has hidden behind the all-encompassing, impenetrable black veil of confidentiality even with individuals who have the legitimate right to know, eg lawyers of victim civil parties sworn to confidentiality by nature of their profession.

In using “bullied”, maybe Mr Olsen misspoke; maybe, he really unconsciously meant to attribute it to his hundred-million-dollar institution, five years later still celebrating the one victory of Case 001, a cakewalk with mounds of evidence and of one non-senior-KR man who confessed and cooperated.

Second, in calling my application which named KR military commanders Meas Muth and Sou Met “irresponsible” and “reckless”, Mr Olsen misleads the public to believe that I and other victims do not have a right to file our applications now. To the contrary, it is this Extraordinary Chambers that gives us victims this right to file as a civil party. At any point in the criminal proceeding. Now, as explained in my next third point.

Mr Olsen has it backward; I would be “irresponsible” if I do not file. Genuine justice and honorable memory demand that I file.

Third, Mr Olsen is legally incorrect about the ECCC procedural process as to when I can file as a civil party in the ECCC in calling my application “premature” and “a complete disregard for judicial due process and principles of law.”

Basically, as part of the agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the UN, this ECCC uses the procedure of the Cambodian national civil law system, which says a victim can file to become a civil party at any point during the criminal proceeding. Oftentimes, it is the victims who initiate the criminal proceeding against the alleged perpetrator(s) who are sometimes unknown to the victims.

The ECCC Internal Rules (IR) supplements on procedural matters unique to the ECCC where the foundational national procedural law is inadequate or silent. Here, the most updated IR of February 2011 is silent on when a victim can file to become a civil party and has favorable provisions which suggest that the victims can file during this investigative phase of Cases 003/004.

The Glossary at the end of the Feb 2011 Internal Rules defines a "Charged Person” as “any person who is subject to prosecution in a particular case, during the period between the Introductory Submission and Indictment or dismissal of the case".

Application and Admission of Civil Parties Rule23bis.2. A Victim who wishes to be joined as a Civil Party shall submit such application in writing no later than fifteen (15) [a deadline, not when a civil party can file] days after the Co-Investigating Judges notify the parties of the conclusion of the judicial investigation pursuant to IR 66(1).

Judicial Investigations Rule 55.10. “At any time during an investigation, the Co-Prosecutors, a Charged Person or a Civil Party may request the Co-Investigating Judges to make such orders or undertake such investigative action as they consider useful for the conduct of the investigation.”

The Office of Co-Prosecutors has submitted an Introductory Submission on Cases 003/004 to the Office of Co-Investigating Judges (after ruling by Pre-Trial Chamber over conflict between national and international co-prosecutors).  The cases are now under investigation by the OCIJ, but unfortunately only by the UN personnel and even then very tepidly due to political interference and international fatigue.

In filing, I am showing the highest respect for the law, even if it runs contrary to the UN and Cambodian politics of spin.

Through his charged words and tone, is Mr Olsen telling me and Cambodian victims to settle for cheap justice? That cheap justice is all the ECCC can provide us and we should be satisfied with the crumbs handed our way in silence and with gratitude as it’s better than the Khmer Rouge years? That there are two types of justice: one for Cambodians and one for the people of the developed world? That we should accept the fiction being written by this ECCC with regards to Cases 003/004?

In sum, the comments made by UN spokesman Lars Olsen send a deeply chilling message to victims of the Khmer Rouge who could and would want to file as civil parties. The statements are not only perplexing, offensive, misleading and legally incorrect, but attempt to pre-empt my application and those of potential other victims by silencing our voices and to obstruct our pursuit of justice in Cases 003/004.  In this light, it raises an interesting question as to who here really is “reckless”, showing a “complete disregard” for the law and “bullying” who.

Theary Seng,
President of Civicus,
Center for Cambodian Civic Education

Send letters to: or PO Box 146, Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Post reserves the right to edit letters to a shorter length.
The views expressed above are solely the author’s and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.



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