Case 002/02 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) – also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – begins initial hearings today. Case 002 began in November 2011; since then, one of the defendants has died, another has been ruled unfit to stand trial and the case has been separated into an undecided number of sub-trials or “mini-trials” – of which Case 002/02 is one. The twists and turns in one of the most complex trials in Cambodia – and perhaps in all of the world – make it a difficult and complicated one to keep up with. Here is a primer on the ECCC and Case 002/02 to help you keep it straight.
What is the ECCC?
The ECCC was established within the Cambodian judicial system following an agreement between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations, and was officially inaugurated in 2006. The hybrid court is tasked with the trial of “senior leaders” and those “most responsible” for crimes allegedly committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million up to 2.2 million Cambodians – a quarter of the total population.
In Cambodia’s garment factories, workers – 90% of whom are women – faint en masse alarmingly regularly, a phenomenon that highlights harsh working conditions. Yet despite advocacy efforts from the International Labor Organization (ILO) and from non-governmental organizations (NGOs), little improvement has taken place. So what exactly are the working conditions like and what can be done to improve the situation?
The garment industry is central to Cambodia’s economy, providing jobs to approximately 475,000 people. Working in a garment factory is often a sought-after position for many women who hope to earn a better wage than what they can expect for in rural areas.
Prior to January 2014, the monthly minimum salary for garment factory workers was $80 USD, which hardly represented one fifth of what the Asia Floor Wage calculates to be a living wage in Cambodia. After months of failed negotiations with factory owners, in December 2013, Cambodian unions called for national strikes demanding a wage increase to $160 USD per month.
Today – 17 July 2014 – is International Criminal Justice Day, marking the entry into force of the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court. In Cambodia, this year’s International Criminal Justice Day holds particular relevance considering that later this month, the next phase of the criminal trials for former Khmer Rouge leaders will commence.
What is the International Criminal Justice Day?
Every 17 July, International Criminal Justice Day is held to mark the adoption of the Rome Statute and to remind governments across the globe of their responsibility to bring to justice perpetrators of grave human rights violations.
The United Nations General Assembly first recognized the need for a permanent international court to deal with the most serious crimes in the wake of the atrocities of World War II. On 17 July 1998, the international community reached a historic milestone when 120 States adopted the Rome Statute, the legal basis for establishing the world’s first permanent International Criminal Court (“ICC”). In 2002 the ICC was established in The Hague, in the Netherlands, and is a permanent international tribunal that can prosecute individuals for the crime of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. International Criminal Justice Day was established in 2010, at the Review Conference of the Rome Statute in Kampala, Uganda.
Cambodia ratified the Rome Statute on 11 April 2002, which signaled the government’s commitment to upholding the principles of justice protected for by the Statute.
Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt of the United States holding a Declaration of Human Rights poster in English. November 1949. Credit: UN Photo
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights works to improve the human rights situation for all people in Cambodia. This is incredibly important work which can genuinely make a difference to the people of Cambodia. However, CCHR recognizes that not everyone knows what human rights are, or how their lives would change if all human rights were available to them.
The idea behind “human rights” is that there are certain activities which every individual, everywhere should be able to exercise or experience in their lives. Everyone has the right to life, and to live their lives freely and securely. It is built on the notion that human rights are universal, indivisible, and inalienable. “Universal” means that these rights apply to everyone, whether you’re male, female or transgender, no matter which country you or your family comes from, irrespective of which religion or political party you follow, and so on. “Indivisible” means that all of the rights are so connected that they cannot be experienced in full without all the other rights being fully realized as well. “Inalienable” means that human rights cannot be given away, they are an implicit part of being human.
Protesters outside the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, 30 May 2014
Our tuk-tuk slows to a halt on Charles de Gaulle Boulevard. Five of us, who have been piled on the sweaty pleather seats for the last twenty minutes, jump out of the vehicle and take in the surroundings. The area is already swarming with people: sleepy-eyed police officers and security guards half-heartedly manning the black metal barricades, trial attendees waiting for the court doors to open, and passersby heading to work.
It is Friday, May 30th, and we are awaiting the court verdict for 23 human rights defenders and garment factory workers who have been detained since the beginning of January. They are accused of instigating violence during strikes calling for minimum wage increases.
During the three days of the trial, CCHR and other human rights organizations noted that the defendants’ rights were violated on several occasions. The 23 were denied bail despite health concerns, initial access to their legal team, and adequate medical care. In addition, there was a complete lack of incriminatory evidence presented during the hearing, and the judge expressed an extreme bias in favor of the prosecution throughout the trial.
Several local and international CCHR staff, including myself, have arrived to monitor the trial and the protests taking place outside. Those inside will determine whether or not the defendants’ fair trial rights are respected, while those outside will observe the protests, operating as witnesses in case they turn violent.
In May 2012, the government of Cambodia announced that a Draft Cybercrime Law (“the Draft”) was in the works. Calls to see copies of the Draft by human rights organizations were ignored. However, an unofficial copy of the Draft was leaked to the public in April 2014. The supposed purpose of the law is to combat online criminal activities.The Draft criminalizes hacking, the stealing of data and the production of pornography on the Internet.
However, it seems the Draft has an additional hidden agenda. Asked about the need for a Cybercrime Law in May 2012, Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha explained to The Phnom Penh Post: “We need to prevent any ill-willed people or bad-mood people from spreading false information, groundless information that could tend to mislead the public and affect national security or our society. We need to control this.” As such, it seems that the underlying purpose of the Draft is controlling information circulating on the Internet.
In fact, there is a lengthy Article in the Draft that regulates the sharing of information on the Internet. Article 28 makes it a crime to create web content that is “deemed to hinder the sovereignty and integrity of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” to publish information (even if true) that is deemed to incite persons to commit anarchism, and to publish (retweet, repost, or forward an email) material that is “deemed to generate insecurity, instability, and political incohesiveness.” There are several more articles that regulate expression, including a provision that would punish online expression that incites or instigates prejudice based on political views. This last provision will most likely be used to punish those critical of the actions of the ruling party.
On 26 June 2014, the government of Cambodia had its Universal Periodic Review outcome session at the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva. The purpose of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is for United Nations (UN) member states to peer-review the human rights records of other member states and offer recommendations that can be accepted, noted, or rejected by the State under review. Because every state must undergo a review, and because recommendations are offered by fellow members as opposed to UN officials, the process is seen as a fair, objective, and equal way to improve each state’s human rights record.