Khmer Rouge Tribunal Legacy Hinges on Final Cases
NEW YORK/PHNOM PENH—High-level war crimes cases should be tried by the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, rather than transferred to local courts, said a report released today by the Open Society Justice Initiative. Ordinary domestic courts cannot guarantee international fair trial standards, given the intense political interference of Cambodian leaders.
“Cambodia’s government has made clear its determination to abort any cases it finds politically inconvenient,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. “The United Nations and international donors must ensure that any completion plan for the court guarantees fair trials and appeals in all remaining cases on its docket.”
Four cases—involving a total of ten accused persons—are currently pending before the tribunal. Case 001 is under appeal; Case 002 is set to go to trial in mid-2011. Cases 003/004, involving senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, are currently under investigation, but Cambodian leaders have repeatedly sought to block their progress. Last month, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly repeated his view that the cases should not continue and vowed to stop them.
“The court must keep expenses in line and bring all cases to a close, while still upholding the principle of judicial independence,” said Goldston. “In light of relentless Cambodian political interference, the best way to achieve this is through the existing hybrid tribunal.”
The Justice Initiative’s report recommends conducting simultaneous trials for Cases 002 and 003/004. While more expensive in the short run, allowing the aging leaders accused in Case 002 to have a reduced trial schedule while keeping the court in operation full-time will ultimately reduce the cost and time required to complete all cases with the current hybrid court structure.
The Khmer Rouge Tribunal is charged with prosecuting senior leaders and those most responsible for mass crimes committed in Cambodia during the 1970s. Its unique structure as a court formally embedded in the Cambodian domestic system but with international participation at all levels is an experiment in the development of legal accountability for mass atrocities.