A Morning at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

On Wednesday 29 August 2015, I had the chance to be part of a CCHR delegation, welcomed by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (“ECCC”) for an educational exchange. Our delegation attended part of a hearing before the Trial Chamber and met with representatives from various sections of the ECCC. It was a valuable opportunity for me to learn more about the mission of the ECCC, its working methods, and the practical difficulties faced when delivering justice.

The ECCC, commonly referred to as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, was created in 2006 following negotiations between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations. Its goal is to try perpetrators of crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 during the Khmer Rouge regime of Democratic Kampuchea. This hybrid tribunal – hybrid because it is a mix between international criminal law and Cambodian law – is competent to prosecute senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime and those who are most responsible for having committed serious crimes over this period. The ECCC prosecutes and tries persons charged under both international criminal law (genocide; crimes against humanity; grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions; destruction of cultural property; and crimes against internationally protected persons) and domestic law (homicide; torture; and religious persecution).

We started the visit by attending a hearing in case 002/02, which is currently on trial. Case 002 was split in September 2011 into two separate trials. At the end of the first trial (case 002/01), Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea were found guilty of crimes against humanity and sentenced to life imprisonment on 7 August 2014. They both appealed the conviction issued by the Trial Chamber.

During the hearing, the Trial Chamber heard the testimony of a witness recalling the alleged events that happened at the Trapeang Thma Dam worksite in Banteay Meanchey Province. The witness was questioned by the Defence over working conditions at the site in 1977 and allegations of forced marriages.

Our delegation then met with members of the Public Affairs Unit, the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges, the Office of the Co-Prosecutors and the Lead Co-Lawyers (Civil Parties) section. This exchange provided me with an opportunity to learn more about the nature of proceedings before the ECCC. Discussions were focused on the procedural specificities governing the judicial process with a particular emphasis on the investigative stage and the fundamental role of victims in the ECCC’s proceedings. Speakers also discussed the practical difficulties faced when investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes. Entanglements between different systems of law, political interference, and the fact that the crimes happened almost 40 years ago are all challenges that are faced by the ECCC.

As an intern involved in the CCHR’s Judicial Reform Project, I particularly benefited from the expertise of the speakers regarding fair trial rights and due process of law. In carrying out its mission, the ECCC seeks to act as a positive influence on the Cambodian judicial system, where adherence to fair trial standards is often lacking. Through training provided to national judges, Cambodian lawyers, and other relevant stakeholders, the ECCC aims to build a lasting legacy in domestic Cambodian legal and judicial practice.

While concerns regarding the lack of judicial independence and the weak separation of powers remain widespread in Cambodia, I hope that those initiatives will help the country to move forward on a path to an independent and impartial Judiciary.

More details about the Khmer Rouge Tribunal are available on the ECCC’s website.

Julien GUIET, CCHR International Intern