Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Hopes for Khmer Rouge tribunal influence on Cambodia’s courts ‘at risk’ amid political crackdown

Hopes for Khmer Rouge tribunal influence on Cambodia’s courts ‘at risk’ amid political crackdown

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A packed public gallery watches closing statements in Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal earlier this year. ECCC

Hopes for Khmer Rouge tribunal influence on Cambodia’s courts ‘at risk’ amid political crackdown

When the Khmer Rouge tribunal was first established it was seen not only as a chance at justice for the regime’s victims, but as a potential example for the country’s courts to emulate. It would, it was speculated, lift up the justice system – a hope that experts at a recent panel say has been all but extinguished.

At the discussion – hosted in New York, last month by the Open Society Foundations, and for which an audio recording was recently made available – experts discussed the impact an ongoing political crackdown may have on the legacy of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

“What’s the relationship between the deterioration of democracy and human rights and . . . the performance of this extraordinary chambers in the search for accountability?” Jim Goldston, the moderator and executive director of Open Society Justice Initiative, asked.

The tribunal was established to try the leaders of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, which oversaw the deaths of up to 2 million people.

So far, the court has convicted chief ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan and Kaing Guek Eav, who oversaw the S-21 prison, of crimes against humanity.

Putsata Reang, a Cambodian-American journalist, said the tribunal “came into existence really to do something that had not happened in Cambodia before, which was in fact to administer justice”.

She credited the court with bringing “standards for what justice means in Cambodia” following “an epidemic of mob rule”.

Heather Ryan, a consultant with Open Societies and a long-time court observer, said the tribunal “does serve as an example of a different level of justice than what Cambodians are used to seeing in the normal domestic courts”.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A packed public gallery watches closing statements in Case 002/02 at the Khmer Rouge tribunal earlier this year. ECCC

That progress, however, is “now at risk”, said David Tolbert, with the International Centre for Transitional Justice.

In recent months and years, the courts have been widely viewed as a cudgel wielded against ruling party critics. The CNRP is currently facing dissolution at the hands of the Supreme Court and opposition leader Kem Sokha is awaiting trial on charges of “treason”.

Reang agreed that the court’s legacy – that justice is possible even when high-level leaders are involved – is hanging in the balance.

Noting the government’s violent crackdown on 2013 protests and the 2016 murder of political activist Kem Ley – which many suspect was a political assassination – Reang said Hun Sen is flaunting his own impunity.

“On the one hand, we could have former Khmer Rouge leaders who are partly responsible for the deaths of 2 million Cambodians be brought to justice . . . while at the same time we have a prime minister who literally is getting away with murder,” she said.

The discussion then moved to the international community’s response to the crackdown, with Tolbert saying cutting funding for the ECCC should be on the table.

“I don’t think you can tolerate extrajudicial killings. I don’t think you can tolerate the closing down of newspapers for political means and the manipulation of elections,” he said.

Open Society’s Ryan, however, said cutting aid to the court would only serve Hun Sen’s purpose. The premier has said that cases beyond the scope of the leaders already prosecuted would not proceed.

“I worry that maybe Hun Sen would be somewhat vindicated and would in fact like it if the international community pulled out of the court,” Ryan said.

This article has been updated with the event’s correct location. The Post apologises for the error.

MOST VIEWED

  • First Cambodian woman graduates from Japan’s NDA military academy

    A few years ago, Meach Sithyka Jessica became the first-ever Cambodian woman to graduate from the US Military Academy at West Point, and since then her courage and determination has served as an inspiration for other Cambodian women. Similarly, Ly Chansocheata became the first Cambodian

  • Construction begins on $1.5B Kampot seaport

    The International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, principally invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd and projected to cost $1.5 billion, has officially broken ground in Bokor town, Kampot province. The multi-purpose logistics and port centre, located in Prek Tnaot commune, will be built on

  • Cambodia eyes key role in electronics, auto hubs in SEA

    Two roadmaps, part of the LDC’s economic diversification plan, were designed to see it through its migration process, but experts say the journey might be arduous, particularly in the presence of two established hubs in the region By 2028, Cambodia hopes to have exited the

  • Hun Neng, lawmaker and PM’s brother, passes away aged 72

    Hun Neng, chairman of the 4th Commission of the National Assembly, has passed away from heart disease at the age of 72 on the afternoon of May 5, according to the Ministry of Information. Hun Neng is the older brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and was

  • PM meets with US business giants

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has met with a number of major US companies who have expressed interest in investing in Cambodia, in a meeting convened by the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC). A delegation of companies – including Amazon, Meta, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Ford, Visa and Pernod

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with