The infighting at the Extra-ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) came
to an end on June 12, when a panel of Cambodian and International judges approved
rules that clear the way for the court to finally put suspects on trial.
Progress at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) has been stalled since November
2006 due to wrangling over the internal rules, which govern every aspect of the KRT's
The unanimous decision to approve the rules constitutes the first concrete step in
months towards holding the "senior leaders and those most responsible"
for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge period to account.
"This agreement on the rules is a major step forward for the ECCC," said
James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, in a press
statement released June 13. "Major tasks remain for the court. But this announcement
puts the Cambodian people closer to seeing justice done."
Victims hopes to be realized soon ?
The court's co-prosecutors, who have been building cases since last year, will file
their first introductory submission to the co-investigating judges within weeks,
said co-prosecutor Robert Petit. He said at this stage some information about the
identity of suspects would likely be made public.
"Victims want to know who and how many people will be prosecuted," said
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam). "Victims
must be given the whole picture - the ECCC must be transparent and clear on this."
Chhang said it was essential that the court's judicial officers kept victims informed
of what is happening at all times.
"This is so important for the victims," he said. "There is much expectation
that the co-prosecutor will define what 'senior leaders' or 'those most responsible'
really means. This must be clarified - the victims must be the court's priority."
The internal rules have enshrined the right of victim participation, allowing groups
of victims to form civil parties and submit complaints to the court. They have also
created a victims unit, which ECCC officials estimate will cost $600,000 to run.
But co-investigating judge You Bun Leng has raised concerns about where the funding
for the victims unit will come from, as the court is already running over budget.
"We will broach the need for more funds with donors soon," said Bun Leng.
"But receiving more funding will depend on how the ECCC performs. If the court
is going well, donors would not allow lack of funds to jeopardize it mid-way through."
Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc, expressed concern that inadequate
funding for victim support programs would deter participation by those who suffered
under the Khmer Rouge rule. "People might fear coming forward," he said.
Saray said Adhoc's efforts would be focused on ensuring all Cambodian citizens know
and understand what is happening at the court.
"If victims cannot receive information on the ECCC process it is utter nonsense,"
he said. "We want to make this process meaningful and useful for the people,
so they can feel satisfied that justice has been done - that the right people have
Justice at last
The ECCC's nineteen judges and two co-prosecutors unanimously voted to approve chapters
one and two of the court's internal rules. But the court's two co-prosecutors were
excluded from the vote on chapter 3 and the glossary in order "to maintain judicial
independence," said Helen Jarvis, head of the ECCC's press office.
After the vote, the ECCC's judicial officers issued a statement explaining why it
had taken over seven months to come to an agreement.
"For the first time, a hybrid court, taking as its foundation the national law
of the country in which it is operating, has incorporated the work of the co-investigating
judges into its process," the statement read. "We have had no precedents
as we worked to integrate Cambodian law and the procedure and the particular characteristics
and structure of this court, while ensuring international standards are upheld."
Sok An, deputy Prime Minister, said the drafting of the rules was not a simple process
of merely taking the internal rules of another court and making a few quick adjustments.
"[It] has involved, on the one hand, the international judges gaining an understanding
of the existing Cambodian procedure, and on the other hand the Cambodian judges gaining
a better grasp of procedures followed in the international and hybrid courts,"
Rupert Skilbeck, head of the Defense Support Section of the ECCC, said in a statement
that although the adoption of the rules was a "great achievement and an important
step to ensuring fair trials," some problems remained which could cause major
difficulties in the future.
"The protections given to the accused in the rules are not as progressive as
the protection given in other tribunals," he wrote. "There are concerns
that certain rules may not fully comply with international standards of fair trial.
It is envisaged that defense teams may raise these concerns with the court during
OSJI's Goldston said that the adoption of the rules showed that the court could surmount
seemingly intractable obstacles when all parties cooperated.
"We hope the same joint determination will be applied to the court's remaining
challenges," he said. "Including finalizing referrals of cases for formal
investigation, conducting investigations that meet international standards, and establishing
transparent administrative procedures."
Despite concerns over some lacunae in the rules their adoption has been well received
by the government. Sok An expressed his appreciation for the "significant achievement"
of adopting the rules and reaffirmed the government's full support for the "momentous
task" the ECCC was undertaking.
"Our foremost objective is to provide justice for the victims, the entire Cambodian
people, and for humanity as a whole," he said. "In striving to achieve
this long-awaited justice we must not jeopardize our country's newly-won national
peace, unity, and stability."