The year has not ended well for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
(ECCC). The last months of 2006 have been problem-filled: November began with a series
of acrimonious exchanges between the Cambodian Bar Association (CBA) and the ECCC.
The month ended with the failure of the plenary session to approve the court's internal
draft rules. December heralded the reopening of high-level negotiations between Deputy
Prime Minister Sok An and the United Nations.
From minor setbacks to hints of the court's collapse - differing interpretations
of events abound.
Prime Minister Hun Sen's claim on December 27 in Anlong Veng that "the story
had ended" with the formal surrender of the Khmer Rouge in 1998 appears to add
weight to the naysayers' assertion that as 2006 draws to a close, so too does the
delusion of a Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
"Many people have been fooled by the CPP-controlled government," said opposition
leader Sam Rainsy. "They are not going to allow the holding of any serious trial
of the Khmer Rouge because it will reveal their own involvement."
Others, more optimistically, maintain that the current difficulties will be easy
to overcome in the New Year, but add the not-insignificant caveat that political
will is imperative.
"The reopening of negotiations between the UN and the Cambodian government is
not a big obstruction," said Thun Saray, president of Adhoc, a local human rights
NGO. "If the government wants to resolve the problems it could be done very
quickly; it's a question of political will."
KRT officials argue that recent events are being used by the court's detractors to
mask the overall progress made during 2006.
"All of the judges and officials are trying their best," said Reach Sambath,
ECCC spokesman. "They are working hard for the benefit of the people of Cambodia,
to bring justice to the victims."
Yet he acknowledged that sometimes the ECCC's progress can take a convoluted path.
"Moving forward towards justice is not always easy," he said. "It
is like dancing - two steps forward one step back, but you don't just give up."
Sambath argued that Hun Sen's comments and ongoing reticence to directly discuss
the trial were testament to the government's appreciation of their role in the proceedings.
"The government understands their role very well," he said. "They
don't want to interfere with our work; they let us do our work independently, as
everyone knows how important it is to bring international standards to the courts
of Cambodia. We all want the legacy of this trial to be used by Cambodia after [the
trial itself] is finished."
He further argued that "no one wants this process to fail; everyone wants to
see it go forward and close this dark chapter of history."
This line of argument was directly contradicted by Rainsy's assertion on December
27 that the CPP's leaders would like nothing more than to see the entire trial fall
"Imagine if Germany after World War II was still led by Himmler, Goering, and
Eichmann," Rainsy said. "Would they tolerate a Nuremberg trial?"
But 2006 has brought significant progress for some areas of the ECCC, said Youk Chhang,
director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).
"It was a crucial year for the trial regarding the investigations," he
said. "They were smoothly conducted and very successful in gathering information
- that achievement should be highlighted."
Recent setbacks are by no means terminal, Chhang said, adding that overall; the court
has performed acceptably over the course of 2006.
"Yes, a few things that occurred that should not have," he said. "But
these were largely procedural complications and should not be difficult to resolve
over the coming year. I would give them B+ in terms of operations."
The primary area in which Chhang thought the ECCC fell short this year pertained
to the court's internal organization
"It appears to me that sometimes some units don't know what other units are
doing even though they should," he said. "I think there is a need for the
UN to assess its role in this process; this could help to fix the problems now."
But resolving some of the conflicts that have emerged - for example between the CBA
and the defence office - will require compromise, he said.
"One side has to be willing to lose face for the sake of justice," Chhang
said. "If both sides are more concerned for themselves than for the victims
this is a problem and we can expect more problems to come. Both sides must accept
we are here for the victims."
Chhang lastly argued that there was a need for more, and better organized, outreach
work in 2007.
"So far the ECCC has been very open in terms of facilitating visits and answering
questions," he said. "But I would like to see them make more time for provincial
visits and be a little more organized within their own officials regarding who has
the authority to spread what messages."
Sambath responded that the ECCC has to tread a fine line in terms of its outreach
work as Cambodia is polarized in terms of interest in the trial.
"There are two groups of people," he said. "Some are very interested
to know what happened [under the Khmer Rouge]; some are interested to know how they
can move their life ahead, how they can feed and educate their children."
It would be wrong to attempt to force information about the trial on to every Cambodian
citizen, he said.
"Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is a big problem in Cambodia,"
he said. "Some people don't want to awaken bad memories; they would rather just
walk away from it all. The population is a mixture of people who want to know what
is going on and people who don't want to know at all [so] we don't push information
on people who might not want it."
But for many of those in Cambodia who do want to understand the Khmer Rouge era and
are seeking to understand the work of the ECCC, 2006 has not been a year of answers.
"There are still many questions," said Adhoc's Saray. "For example,
why [the ECCC is to] try only a small number of people at the top level, why not
the killers who are still in villages with victims? We receive many questions like
this [and answering them is] very important for real reconciliation, peace, and justice."
Whether or not 2007 will allow the ECCC to move towards answering such questions
remains to be seen, but Saray was cautiously optimistic.
"I hope [the current problems] can be resolved by March or April," he said.
"They should have a compromise, or some kind of solution between the UN and
Cambodian government to accelerate this process again. Now a lot of people both nationally
and internationally are interested and watch closely this process so there is constant
pressure on the government and court to do the right thing - if they do something
wrong a lot of people will make a lot of noise."