TheExtraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia(the “ECCC”) – more commonly known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal – conjures a conflicted image of both justice and injustice. It has been plagued by allegations of political interference, a lack of sufficient funding and criticism regarding the length of the procedure. Many senior Khmer Rouge officials have also passed away or been deemed unfit to stand trial, and therefore evaded justice.
Today, 17 October 2014, marks the beginning of the second phase of the trial of two former senior Khmer Rouge officials, Deputy Secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea Nuon Chea (88 years-old), more commonly known as Brother Number Two, and Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea Khieu Samphan (82 years-old). During the first phase of their trial they were convicted of crimes against humanity for their roles in the forced movement of people and the execution of Khmer Republic soldiers, and sentenced to life imprisonment.
The guilty verdict is a welcome step forward in achieving justice for the victims and survivors of the Khmer Rouge. But with the first verdict against senior leaders* coming down over 35 years after the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, there are concerns that justice will mean too little at this point in time, especially as many of the Khmer Rouge’s survivors have passed away in the meantime.
These concerns are compounded by the fact that this verdict is only for a small section of the charges brought forth in Case 002. Due to the scope represented by Case 002, the ECCC decided to split the case into a series of “mini-trials” – the verdict delivered today is for Case 002/01, which only looked at the forced movement of the population from Phnom Penh (Phase I) and later from other regions (Phase II), and at the execution of soldiers of the Khmer Republic at the Toul Po Chrey execution site, which took place at the very beginning of the Khmer Rouge period – leaving many issues to be tried during future “mini-trials.”
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.
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.