Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KRT causing massive brain drain

KRT causing massive brain drain

KRT causing massive brain drain


The UN-backed court has employed many of the most talented staff from

Cambodia's own legal system, leaving the domestic courts groaning under

the weight of too many cases


A visitor at Phnom Penh’s Choeung Ek Killing Fields examines skulls in the main stupa.

THE Khmer Rouge tribunal is causing

a large-scale brain drain that is taking talented local staff away from

the civil court system and causing a pile-up of unheard cases.

"The ECCC is one of the major causes of the lack of judges and

prosecutors at the local court," Hanrot Ranken, a high-ranking member

of the Supreme Council of Magistry and a general prosecutor at the

Appeals Court told the Post by phone Wednesday. "This has led to a

slowing of the court process and a backlog in the amount of cases to be


The issue forced the council to appoint 55 judicial graduates as judges

and deputy prosecutors last week at 21 municipal and provincial courts

across the Kingdom.

"Right now we have judges in training, but it is still not enough," said Hanrot Ranken.

"We tried to move ECCC judges back to the local courts, but they are on duty at ECCC so they could not."

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court currently has 16 judges and eight

prosecutors on staff, with each judge now expected to handle around 700

cases annually. According to the latest budget estimate for the ECCC,

the court will need at least 21 more Cambodian judicial staff over the

next two years.

ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath said the court was aware of the negative

effects on the local legal system, but insisted they were only


"Sometimes you have to sacrifice a small duck for a big fish," he said.

"The most important thing for this court is the judges at the ECCC will

be able to go back to their courts and have something to share with

their collegues."

Terminal shortage?

Co-Investigating Judge You Bun Leng said the problem went much further

back than the history of the tribunal and questioned the role of the


"We had a shortage of judges since before the establishment of the

ECCC, so I don't think this is the cause," he said, adding that the

ECCC was unlikely to need more judicial staff. "Currently the ECCC does

not require more judges or prosecutors, as we have learnt of the

shortage of legal officers."

The growing seriousness of the legal "brain drain" has started to alarm

observers concerned about the long-term impact of the

internationally-sponsored tribunal.

Sok Sam Oeun, director of the Cambodian Defenders Project said that

despite the ECCC's efforts to have a lasting legacy on the Cambodian

legal system, it was not proving to be the "model court" many had hoped


"I don't yet see the positive effects [of the ECCC] on the local legal system," he said.

A report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in

April on the legacy of hybrid courts warned that short-term effects,

such as the depletion of local judges, could have lasting effect if not

addressed early.  

"If the focus of the court is diverted away from investment in the

necessary domestic legal reforms ... or if staff use the experience

gained to seek jobs abroad, or in the private sector, and do not return

to the domestic system... [the draining of the domestic system] may

develop into a longer-term concern."

According to the report, at other hybrid courts, such as Sierra Leone,

national staff have returned to the domestic system only to be

frustrated by the lack of resources, leading them to get jobs elsewhere.

"Sometimes judges try to reform, but when they bring changes into the

local system, they get a negative reaction from staff," said Sok Sam



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