The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber yesterday called the establishment of a second panel of judges to begin hearing Case 002/02 “imperative”, and ordered the court’s trial chamber to initiate proceedings in the case “as soon as possible”.
The SCC had previously instructed the trial chamber to examine the possibility of a second panel of judges in the interest of speeding up the remainder of Case 002 – the court’s flagship case against the “most responsible” senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, but yesterday’s filing was the strongest exhortation yet to set such a plan in action.
However, while the chamber’s filing – a response to appeals against the decision to sever Case 002 into a number of sub-trials – dismissed obstacles to a second chamber, those close to the trial said that such obstacles may actually prove pricklier than the SCC acknowledges.
“Case 002/02 must commence as soon as possible after the end of closing submissions in Case 002/01,” the filing reads, before calling on the court to “utilize every available day to ensure a final determination of the remaining charges”.
“With the Trial Chamber’s express projection of a time line of at least eight months to issue its judgment in Case 002/01 … the Supreme Court Chamber considers that the establishment of a second panel has now become imperative,” the filing continues. “The Supreme Court Chamber emphasizes that there is no obstacle against the convening of a second panel within the Trial Chamber where it is necessitated by the interests of justice.”
Maintaining that there are no legal, financial or administrative “impediments”, the filing goes on to lambaste the lower trial chamber’s “reliance on the ECCC’s financial malaise” in its decision-making as sacrificing the sacred sphere of law for the mundane concerns of saving money.
However, those mundane concerns could have a very real impact, especially given the trial’s relatively slow pace and the advanced age of the accused, Long Panhavuth, a program officer with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said.
“You see, the first mini-trial took more than 200 [hearing] days – so far, it’s more than a [calendar] year – and it takes more than six months after the first trial before they will issue the judgment,” he said. “It is not certain that the donors will put up more money if they are not sure that all the accused are going to be alive when the verdict [in Case 002/02] is rendered.”
What’s more, he added, in the absence of a final verdict in Case 002/01, certain legal issues spilling over from that case could still be up for debate in Case 002/02.
One of the most pressing of those legal issues, civil party lead co-lawyer Elisabeth Simonneau-Fort said, is whether the two accused were part of a joint criminal enterprise – a central aspect of the case that will determine whether the accused can be held responsible for the crimes of the entire regime.
“I don’t know how it’s possible to begin Case 002/02 not having the decision in very important points like joint criminal enterprise and some legal questions,” Simonneau-Fort said, noting that her views may not represent those of all her fellow civil party lawyers.
“For the victims, of course we would like to begin [Case 002/02], but we cannot forget the legal side of the trial,” she added. “We have to respect the rules.”