The future of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) appears
to be precarious. Civil society groups, and people close to the Khmer Rouge Trials,
are saying it is possible some of the international judges may walk.
The court's attempts to resolve widening rifts over the ECCC's critical draft internal
rules ended without agreement on January 25. Sources say resolution was reached on
the majority of issues, but "several" deal-breaking issues remain on the
table. Disagreements derailed the process in November, drawing allegations of political
interference from rights groups.
"There have been disturbing developments in the progress of the rules committee
and the future of the ECCC," said a press release from the Cambodian Human Rights
Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 23 local rights NGOs, on January 24. "Including
the possible pull-out of international senior officials should the Internal Rules
not meet minimum international standards."
A source involved in the proceedings confirmed that negotiations over the draft internal
rules had once again run aground, but details of the dispute remain unclear.
"There is a division among the foreigners," the source said. "There
are some who are prepared to do anything to make sure the trial goes forward, and
there are some who will only go forward if it truly meets international standards."
Rights groups said the importance of international standards should not be negotiable.
"I understand the point of view of international judges [who may threaten to
walk]," said Kek Galabru, president of Licadho."They have their own reputations
to consider. With justice you cannot compromise, you cannot bargain: law is law,
international standards are international standards."
If the foreign judges feel that the draft internal rules do not meet international
standards they have no option but to walk out of the proceedings, Galabru said.
"If I was an international judge or prosecutor I would do the same," she
said. "I wouldn't want too be seen as playing a game or [participating in a]
Agreement on procedure is essential for progress at the ECCC, said Chantal Beaubien,
legal assistant for the ECCC and the International Criminal Court program at Adhoc.
"This is an extraordinary chamber, so it doesn't function the same way as any
[Cambodian] court," she said. "You have to decide in advance how the court
will be run or you will really run into problems."
According to Beaubien, there are two possible causes of hold ups: technical legal
disagreements or the shadow of political interference.
"If the process is being politicized it will be difficult for the review committee
to come to agreement," said Beaubien. "[But] if the review committee is
arguing over technical legal issues then we see no reason why they shouldn't be able
to resolve these."
But Sara Colm, of Human Rights Watch, warned that technical disputes could be underscored
by political motives.
"We would hope that the issues do not include the ongoing debate about the defense
unit, because independent and qualified defense unit is non-negotiable," she
said. "A fair trial requires a robust defense from lawyers free from political
It is unlikely that technical problems are the issue, said Galabru.
"If the Cambodian side shows real political will, then I think international
judges and prosecutors would be happy to help," she said. "But they need
to show real will. If [the international judges] have suspicions, I think they will
walk and you can't blame them."
The Cambodian Bar Association (CBA) stance on the admission of foreign lawyers was
regarded as key to the earlier plenary session's failure. A CBA official said they
were not aware of a possible departure of foreign judges.
"Our position is that we want to see the ECCC move forward," said Ly Tayseng,
secretary general of the CBA.
Further delays could threaten the purpose of the trial, German Ambassador Pius Fischer
said on January 23.
"A lot of time has been lost in delays and some potential witnesses are now
elderly," he said during a seminar in Phnom Penh. "Very soon maybe the
logical reason will not be around any more. It is very important that this trial
starts as soon as possible."
Fischer said the EU was keen to see proceedings commence as soon as possible and
warned that Cambodia's handling of the trials was being closely watched by the international
"It is very important this tribunal will actually satisfy all international
standards and will be able to take off and grow as soon as possible," he said.
"We should have a trial as soon as possible."