As parties prepare for Case 002/01 appeal hearings, set to resume on Tuesday, a new report by the Open Society Justice Initiative examines the legacy of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, identifying political interference and insufficient outreach as the court’s primary shortcomings.
While the 120-page report, entitled Performance and Perception, notes the court’s positive accomplishments, such as holding certain individuals accountable “in public and generally fair trials”, as well as precipitating the inclusion of Khmer Rouge History in the national public education curriculum, it notes that “the most serious flaw that had ripple effects on all aspects of the court’s work was the lack of independence of the Cambodian judges and officials from political influence”.
Because of this interference “the court did not meet international fair trial standards in all respects”, the authors conclude, noting that the responsibility for this fault is shared between the Cambodian government, judicial officials, the structure of the court, as well as “UN and international officials who failed to effectively challenge such interference”.
Political interference in cases 003 and 004 has been a longstanding allegation against the government, with Prime Minister Hun Sen stating that pursuing those trials would spark civil war.
The report notes that “the cases, which involve cadre[s] with connections to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), may embarrass the party and its leader, Hun Sen”.
However, for Victor Koppe, international lawyer for Case 002 defendant Nuon Chea, political interference at the court extends to decisions such as the trial chamber’s refusal to accept a Human Rights Watch report implicating the prime minister in massacres of Cham in 1975, as well as the denial to call National Assembly President Heng Samrin and filmmaker Robert Lemkin as witnesses, which the court upheld in a document made public on Friday.
Cambodians “don’t get to hear Samrin as a witness or Lemkin . . . They don’t get to hear about Hun Sen being involved in [alleged] crimes against humanity,” he said. “Those stories not being told, it’s shameful.”
The report also notes that “the ECCC generally, and particularly with respect to Case 002, is failing to provide adequate outreach to reach and educate” the Cambodian people on the court’s proceedings, a critique Koppe also agreed with.
“Legacy is a hollow word when it comes to the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” he said.
Reached for comment, ECCC spokesman Lars Olsen said the court has “a longstanding practice of not commenting on reports issued by external actors”.
According to Heather Ryan, one of the report’s authors, “Some irreparable damage has been done” to the court’s legacy.
However, she added, more outreach funding – which has been cut significantly since 2013 – and nurturing the relationship between the court and Cambodian legal professionals would go far in maximising the positive legacy of the court, she added.
“Some acknowledgement of the political interference by the court would be a great first step,” she said.