I read today that Robert Petit, international co-prosecutor at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), has resigned from his post due to "personal and family reasons". This year has gotten off to a bad start for Cambodian survivors keenly watching the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Earlier in 2009, the ECCC public affairs officer left his position at the tribunal. Soon after, the ECCC's director and deputy of the Victims' Unit resigned within months of each other, one for a post at the International Criminal Court. These departures have further strained the already beleaguered Victims Unit. Now, the ECCC's [international co-prosecutor] has resigned. One wonders what will come next.
Survivors have been encouraged to participate in a process that promises to give them a voice in the legal process. Yet the very structures that exist to support their participation suffer from a striking absence of continuity and institutional memory. As things stand, much has been promised but little delivered.
I recall reading an article in your paper titled "Petit on the ‘ultimate crime'" (July 13-26, 2007). In that interview, Petit emphasised that the "primary focus" of tribunals like the ECCC is to "render justice". These refrains have been sung before. In an interview three years ago, just before he began his work at the ECCC, Petit said that the principle behind all tribunals remained the same. "The pressure is the same in that you have a responsibility to represent the voices, to represent the victims" (June 28, 2006, Embassy Magazine). How can this work of representing survivors be adequately performed when people with several years of expertise regarding the case and its intricacies leave the court before the first trial has even concluded?
While I do not question the personal reasons behind these rapid and successive resignations, those of us who have worked in Cambodia wonder what impact they will have on Cambodian survivors of mass crimes. Most recently, Petit repeated that victims are not just "the witness of history; they are also judges" (The Phnom Penh Post, January 19, 2009). If so, I wonder how Petit and other foreign officials at the ECCC who seem to move swiftly from one tribunal to the next will be judged by the survivors to whom they have promised so much.
Vinita Ramani Mohan
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