The Phnom Penh Post recently reported the acceptance by the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) of all 91 recommendations made by the members of the United Nations Human Rights Council following last year’s Universal Periodic Review of Cambodia’s human rights record (“NGOs urge continued commitment to rights”, March 23).
Two recommendations relating to the legacy of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) are of particular interest.
Belgium recommended that the RGC “cooperate with the Extraordinary Chambers, the United Nations, the international donors and civil society to develop a strategy aimed at ensuring that the national jurisdictions can benefit from the experience of the Extraordinary Chambers”. New Zealand recommended that the RGC “take steps to ensure that the work of the Extraordinary Chambers, including the involvement of international judges working alongside Cambodian judges, is harnessed to contribute to the strengthening of the Cambodian judiciary”.
Over the past decade, justice systems in Sierra Leone, East Timor, Kosovo, and Bosnia and Herzegovina have received various forms of international assistance to conduct trials relating to complex crimes similar to those being investigated at the ECCC. These internationally supported justice initiatives have contributed to the strengthening of global rule of law, bringing justice and hope to millions of victims. Yet, as former UN secretary general Kofi Annan noted, they have also been expensive and “have contributed little to sustainable national capacities for justice administration”. Inherent to all of these initiatives, including the ECCC, is their temporary nature. The limited life span of these institutions provides a finite window of opportunity in which national justice systems can capitalise on increased national and international focus on domestic justice issues, a temporary injection of funding and resources, and the presence of international legal experts.
When considering how to maximise the legacy that the ECCC can leave for the Cambodian justice system, two points are of particular importance. The first is the need for planning, consultation and local ownership. Experience in the countries mentioned above has confirmed the importance of early planning and strategising to identify the opportunities for capacity building and judicial reform. To be most effective, capacity building and reform efforts should also be nationally owned and driven, and involve a range of stakeholders. This leads to the second point, which is that efforts aimed at strengthening the Cambodian justice system are contingent on a political environment that is conducive to judicial reform.
The cooperation and commitment of the RGC is crucial.
The RGC is to be commended for accepting the recommendations above. With a lengthy wait before the hearing of Case No2, the time is right for the ECCC, relevant UN agencies, NGOs, the Cambodian judiciary and other justice sector stakeholders to work together with the RGC to plan and implement concrete policies and activities to ensure that this unique opportunity to secure a strong ECCC legacy is not wasted.
director of development Donald Fagan, legal consultant Cambodian Centre for Human Rights
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