With Dr Helen Jarvis' appointment as the head of the Victims' Unit, the ECCC has reached a new and baffling low point in what has already been a process marred by alleged corruption and incompetency.
Dr Jarvis formerly managed the Public Affairs Section, a unit with the responsibility to "inform Cambodians throughout the country about the work of the Court generally ... [and] to facilitate their understanding and involvement...." Unfortunately, under her leadership the Public Affairs Section devoted a vast majority of its outreach resources to ill-advised efforts that did not reach a significant number of Cambodians, including printing expensive T-shirts and caps, desk calendars and posters that were heavily criticised for their confusing messages. These activities were a waste of limited resources and, as has been repeatedly pointed out, have done little to accomplish the stated goals of the Public Affairs Section.
The Victims' Unit is a unique innovation in international criminal law that informs survivors about and facilitates their participation in Court proceedings. Most importantly, its work is believed by many to be the best vehicle for ensuring the people of Cambodia feel that justice is being done for and by Cambodians, not by a disconnected international body for the "greater good" of international law.
Such a compelling mandate requires an equally compelling leader, a Cambodian with experience working with victims, and with an ability to prioritise resources and goals appropriately. Dr Jarvis does not have the relevant professional experience and has not demonstrated the necessary qualities in her role as head of the Public Affairs Section to lead the Victims' Unit.
When the dust settles on the proceedings before the ECCC, the measure of its success or failure in the eyes of Cambodian survivors may well rest on the efficiency, organisation and compassion of the Victims' Unit. If it is run with the same lack of energy, insight and care with regard to actually reaching Cambodians that has thus far characterised the work of the Public Affairs Section, however successful the prosecutions may be, the ECCC will fail to realise its full potential.
The voices of Khmer Rouge victims have been stifled for so long; to allow them to fade now only deepens the tragedy.
Noman Pentelovitch, Legal associate
Documentation Center of Cambodia
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