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Faltering KR trial’s legacy ‘uncertain’

As Khmer Rouge tribunal proceedings falter in the face of budget woes, a strike and the failing health of the accused, the tribunal’s legacy as a potential model for domestic courts remains uncertain, lawyers and civil society representatives said at a workshop yesterday.

While some argued that staff expertise and examples of judicial reasoning from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia could be used to improve domestic courts – an oft-stated goal of the hybrid tribunal – others said the sharing of knowledge and skills would mean little due to lack of political will.

“We can talk about lessons learned,” said Long Panhavuth, program officer of the Cambodian Justice Initiative. “But the gap is leadership, and where it comes from. The concern here is the lack of interest of the ECCC as an institution in legacy.”

Although several participants pointed to a meeting on legacy co-organised by the ECCC in September as a sign of the court’s commitment on the matter, Panhavuth said he had attended many legacy meetings since 2008 but had seen no concrete plans develop.

David Boyle, a legal expert who has been researching how tribunal decisions could inform areas where Cambodian law lacked interpretation or established procedure, said he had received little interest from the ECCC when he approached them about providing such a road map.

Nevertheless, Boyle and others said they hoped the tribunal’s “reasoned decisions” could help guide domestic courts.  

“In many countries, when lawyers want to see foreign legal practices, they must go to another country,” said Catherine Phuong of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, noting that she had already seen improvement among provincial judges in terms of providing fuller reasoning for their decisions.

“Cambodia has an extraordinary opportunity in the ECCC to see international practices just outside the city. I hope many will take advantage of it while it’s still around.”

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