Contrary to earlier media reports, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – will not permanently close down next year as claimed despite the National Assembly (NA) passing a law that would effectively end the agreement between the government and the UN and close the ECCC if it was promulgated, officials confirmed.
The draft law – titled Additions to the agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the UN regarding the adjudication under Cambodian law of crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea and the closing of the ECCC – was passed by the NA on October 25 with a unanimous vote during the same session where the sole-citizenship mandate for the nation’s top office holders was approved.
In its online broadcast on October 26, local media outlet EAC News said: “After almost 16 years, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia will permanently close by the end of 2022. This was confirmed during Monday’s plenary session of the National Assembly.”
However, NA member Chheang Vun – who commented on the law during its discussion period at the NA plenary session – told The Post on October 26 that the ECCC will not end any time soon and certainly not without preparing to do so beforehand.
“No, the ECC cannot end immediately as there is some necessary work left that is yet to be completed. I don’t think it will even end in the next few years.
“Much work still remains, so the ECCC will be resized and streamlined to be made smaller but their daily tasks will continue,” he said, adding that there should especially be further initiatives undertaken for educating young people about the nation’s history in order to prevent the recurrence of crimes as grave in nature as those tried in the ECCC
“We still need to prepare an archive of all tribunal documents and set up a place for them to be stored and displayed for the benefit of the younger generations of Cambodians who will one day themselves take up the responsibility of preventing genocide’s return,” Vun said.
ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the passage of the law related to the tribunal was just a preliminary move to make ready for some future date when all of the current cases and other procedures are fully completed.
“The ECCC still has some cases to complete procedurally before it ends its mission and is dissolved. It still has an appeal pending in case 002/02 against Khieu Samphan in which the court needs to deliver a verdict. And there are still cases 003 and 004, both of which have arguments currently underway,” he said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said when the ECCC does finally end its work, it would be important to consider what it had accomplished beyond the trials and convictions or verdicts and punishments.
“We would be wrong to judge the importance of the ECCC based solely upon its convictions. In so many ways, the court has helped shed light on a dark chapter in history and it has influenced – and arguably directly contributed to – an understanding of the many other dimensions of justice that Cambodian society still sorely needs,” he said.
He said the tribunal had given the Khmer Rouge victims an opportunity to speak and describe their personal experiences and their family’s.
Furthermore, he noted, the ECCC established a detailed legal record documenting how genocide, crimes against humanity and many other atrocities were perpetrated which helped Cambodian society not only confront its history but embrace it in order to learn a tragic lesson – the understanding of which was of the utmost importance, and not just for Cambodians – but also for the rest of the world.
“Ultimately – even when the ECCC closes – our work will not end. We must work earnestly to reimagine a Cambodian society that embraces its tragic history, though not as victims but as heroic survivors who are committed to a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future,” Youk said.