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Indifference? Impossible

Indifference? Impossible

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Extraordinary Chamber Judge Marcel Lemonde explains why he became involved in trying to bring former KR to justice


The Extraordinary Chamber’s Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde at an outreach event in Pailin in January this year.

How did you come to be a judge at a Cambodian war crimes tribunal?


have been a judge in France for 30 years, specialising in criminal law

matters. For a long time now, I have been particularly interested in

comparative law and in the development of international criminal

justice. Moreover, I was deputy director of the National School of

Magistracy for five years and, in that capacity, I had the opportunity

to visit numerous countries, to study their judicial systems and to

receive visits of judges from throughout the world.

It was in that context that I came to Cambodia in 2002. I visited the

Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, which left a strong impression on me. I

became interested in finding out more about the country and its history

and began reading on the subject. When one immerses oneself in the

history of Cambodia, indifference is impossible. A number of months

later, the agreement creating the tribunal was signed: when the UN

called for candidates, I quite naturally responded positively.

You used to be a police commissioner. How did this experience influence your work as a judge?

I was a police officer for five years, when I was 25 years of age. I

think I was a little too undisciplined to be a good policeman! But I do

not regret the detour. In the police force and in the field, I

discovered the miserable and darker side of life. Indispensable

experience for a judge.

How strong is your professional relationship with the Cambodian judges?

It is incorrect to assume that the international judges have nothing to

learn from their national counterparts. The assistance is mutual.

Without the Cambodian judges, the international judges would have great

difficulty in bringing an acceptable form of justice to the Cambodian

people. That does not, of course, mean that we agree on everything.

Equally, it does not mean that we are unaware of the problems which the

Cambodian judges must face including, for example, the absence of a

minimum statutory protection for them, which would reinforce the

appearance of their independence and impartiality.

What role do you believe history will play in the KRT?

It would be dangerous for a judge to consider him or herself a

historian and to lose sight of the fact that a judge is here to ensure

a fair trial. That said, in a context such as the present, there is

clearly an interaction between the judicial and the historical: The

judge will have to inform him/herself of the work of historians and the

latter can in turn benefit from the trial process. The fact that entire

libraries have already been written on the subject is, of itself, a

difficulty as those works could be considered "pre-judgments" of

current criminal proceedings. One has to take such existing works into

account without at the same time letting oneself be tied to them.

What do you hope the legacy of the KRT will be?

The tribunal is, in the first place, clearly aimed at the Cambodian

people. One could hope that it will allow this country to "read the

page before turning it" namely, that the trial would contribute to the

reconstruction of the country on healthy foundations. Beyond this, the

tribunal can contribute to the reinforcement of the rule of law in

Cambodia, via a durable influence on the national justice system.

Moreover, I believe that the tribunal will have a beneficial influence

on international criminal justice. It is the first time that civil law

procedures are applied in such a context. Now, it has been my view that

the common-law rules have been demonstrated to be, in certain respects,

unsuited to the extreme complexity of mass crimes. So, if we manage

this tribunal's procedures well, they could be a source of inspiration

for other international(ised) criminal justice systems in the future.

What about your job gives you the greatest satisfaction?

I am proud that we were able to adopt the internal rules of the

tribunal in nine months (shorter than other international tribunals),

despite the rather unique problems we had to resolve. I am also

satisfied that we were able to finish the investigation in the first

case file in less than one year, which was not the simplest of


What are your greatest concerns going into the first trial?

The structure of the tribunal, being as it is the reflection of a

series of compromises, is very complicated and its functioning,

especially in its public trial phase, might appear problematic.

Translation problems will undoubtedly contribute to this impression. Of

course, it would have been far easier to have organised a "purely

international" trial in The Hague or elsewhere. However, it is evident

that going down that route would have had little meaning for the

Cambodian people. The task we have set for ourselves is certainly

complex: but I remain persuaded, on a daily basis, that it is a process

certainly worth undertaking.


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