Controversy, acrimony, and internal power struggles currently dog cases 003 and 004 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, leading some observers to predict its “irreparable crash”. Despite these imbroglios, the tribunal can still make a profound and lasting difference in Cambodia. By faithfully carrying out its mandate, it can make the promise of justice a reality in the country’s fledgling legal system.
According to a recently released university study, the tribunal has already begun to improve Cambodian perceptions of justice. The study, which assessed Cambodian attitudes toward the Cambodian judiciary, found that the tribunal has increased trust in the domestic legal system.
But at a time when the majority of Cambodians still believe that justice can be bought and sold – that going to the police means paying a fine, and success in the courtroom requires bribing the judge – it is imperative that the Khmer Rouge tribunal does not betray the trust placed in it by the Cambodian people.
The tribunal must overcome the allegations of corruption, bias and political interference that have plagued it since its inception, threatening to undermine its legacy, and to destroy Cambodia’s still-tenuous belief in the ability of a court to achieve justice.
In the face of these threats, the actions of International Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley and his staff offer a glimmer of hope. In spite of mounting pressure from the Cambodian government, the United Nations, donor states and other tribunal offices, the International Co-Prosecutor has neither bowed to political expediency, nor passively accepted inaction.
Instead, he has staunchly followed the dictates of his conscience, keeping the public informed within the bounds of his authority and pressing the court to be faithful to its own rules.
True, it is unlikely that cases 003 and 004 will ever go to trial. But Cayley, and, less visibly, numerous other court officials whose work is conducted beyond the range of the public scrutiny, are providing
the “high moral character, impartiality and integrity” that UN assistance was intended to provide. In the face of institutional inadequacies, they are a reminder that justice is an ideal worth fighting for in any legal system.
Tatiana Sainati is a law student from Duck University of Law School. She is now a legal associate at the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
Send letters to: email@example.com 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 authors' and do not reflect any positions taken by The Phnom Penh Post.