A two-day meeting beginning today is to set the date for the first public trial at Cambodia’s war crimes tribunal, moving the court into its next stage
Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his revolutionary name Duch, stands in the dock during an earlier hearing at Cambodia's war crimes court.
A DIVIDED Khmer Rouge tribunal will come together today and Friday to set a date for the first public trial at the war crimes court - that of Tuol Sleng prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, known more widely as Duch.
Primarily a procedural meeting, it will also symbolically set in motion the court's transition from largely closed-door pretrial procedures to public, internationally viewed hearings.
The former cadre is charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes in connection with his role as head of the notorious S-21 torture centre.
Aside from setting the exact date of the trial, which is forecast for March, the two-day meeting will address protocol issues relating to the trial, including the number of witnesses and how the hearing will be broadcast. All parties at the tribunal, including judges, prosecutors and Duch himself, are expected to attend the meeting.
"This is an institutionally important moment in which, after many years, the real process of the court is beginning to actually start," David Cohen, director of the Berkeley War Crimes Studies Centre and the Asian International Justice Initiative at the East-West Centre, which is monitoring the court, told the Post Wednesday.
He added that the meeting would also determine how flexible the hybrid setup will be during the public trial stage.
"The KRT is a unique amalgam of international and Cambodian law, and nobody knows exactly how that will work until it starts," he said. "The important things to look for now are how many witnesses will be able to testify, how full their testimonies will be and what role the parties will be able to play."
Progress amid divisions
Despite being a positive step, the meeting will convene at a time when divisions at the court are becoming more defined.
Defence lawyers for Brother No 2 Nuon Chea filed a complaint Friday to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court against the government's top official to the tribunal over issues of corruption. Cambodian tribunal judges, in response, threatened the lawyers with legal action.
ANY PROGRESS TOWARD AN ACTUAL PUBLIC TRIAL IS A
National and international prosecutors have also gone head-to-head over the issue of calling more suspects to trial, prompting the monitoring coalition Cambodia Human Rights Action Committee to make a statement Wednesday claiming only charging five suspects would "undermine the impact and legacy of the court".
"What is also important to watch now is to what extent this system is going to be modified in light of international practice," Cohen said. "This will be critical in determining the court's transparency and public process."
Heather Ryan, tribunal monitor for Open Society Justice Initiative, said Tuesday that she welcomed steps towards a hearing.
"Any progress towards an actual public trial is a positive step," she said.