The UN-backed court has employed many of the most talented staff from
Cambodia's own legal system, leaving the domestic courts groaning under
the weight of too many cases
A visitor at Phnom Penh’s Choeung Ek Killing Fields examines skulls in the main stupa.
THE Khmer Rouge tribunal is causing
a large-scale brain drain that is taking talented local staff away from
the civil court system and causing a pile-up of unheard cases.
"The ECCC is one of the major causes of the lack of judges and
prosecutors at the local court," Hanrot Ranken, a high-ranking member
of the Supreme Council of Magistry and a general prosecutor at the
Appeals Court told the Post by phone Wednesday. "This has led to a
slowing of the court process and a backlog in the amount of cases to be
The issue forced the council to appoint 55 judicial graduates as judges
and deputy prosecutors last week at 21 municipal and provincial courts
across the Kingdom.
"Right now we have judges in training, but it is still not enough," said Hanrot Ranken.
"We tried to move ECCC judges back to the local courts, but they are on duty at ECCC so they could not."
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court currently has 16 judges and eight
prosecutors on staff, with each judge now expected to handle around 700
cases annually. According to the latest budget estimate for the ECCC,
the court will need at least 21 more Cambodian judicial staff over the
next two years.
ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath said the court was aware of the negative
effects on the local legal system, but insisted they were only
"Sometimes you have to sacrifice a small duck for a big fish," he said.
"The most important thing for this court is the judges at the ECCC will
be able to go back to their courts and have something to share with
Co-Investigating Judge You Bun Leng said the problem went much further
back than the history of the tribunal and questioned the role of the
"We had a shortage of judges since before the establishment of the
ECCC, so I don't think this is the cause," he said, adding that the
ECCC was unlikely to need more judicial staff. "Currently the ECCC does
not require more judges or prosecutors, as we have learnt of the
shortage of legal officers."
The growing seriousness of the legal "brain drain" has started to alarm
observers concerned about the long-term impact of the
Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project said that
despite the ECCC's efforts to have a lasting legacy on the Cambodian
legal system, it was not proving to be the "model court" many had hoped
"I don't yet see the positive effects [of the ECCC] on the local legal system," he said.
A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in
April on the legacy of hybrid courts warned that short-term effects,
such as the depletion of local judges, could have lasting effect if not
"If the focus of the court is diverted away from investment in the
necessary domestic legal reforms ... or if staff use the experience
gained to seek jobs abroad, or in the private sector, and do not return
to the domestic system... [the draining of the domestic system] may
develop into a longer-term concern."
According to the report, at other hybrid courts, such as Sierra Leone,
national staff have returned to the domestic system only to be
frustrated by the lack of resources, leading them to get jobs elsewhere.
"Sometimes judges try to reform, but when they bring changes into the
local system, they get a negative reaction from staff," said Sok Sam