Urgent Action Needed on Rules for Khmer Rouge Court
NEW YORK—Urgent action is needed to ensure the timely adoption of rules to govern the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today. Last week's reported progress is welcome, but concerns about delays and political interference at the court must be addressed quickly, the group said.
Nine judges from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia—the court charged with prosecuting the senior leaders and those most responsible for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge—met last week to clarify the internal rules that will govern the court. While this review committee settled many outstanding questions, significant issues remain which could affect the court's ability to meet international standards, including the full and independent participation of international defense counsel. Concerns about political interference in the process continue to stoke fears that Cambodian judges may not be free to exercise independent judgment.
Swift action by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia judges is still needed to settle the remaining rule disputes and avoid further delays in a court that is already six months into its projected three-year lifespan. Even after the review committee completes its work, the rules must be approved by a full plenary of all 25 judges.
"The judges' plenary session must be held and internal regulations must be adopted as soon as possible," said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative. "Further delays risk jeopardizing the court's effectiveness, compounding concerns about political interference and fatally damaging the credibility of an accountability process which has been 30 years in the making."
Court administrators must immediately put into place several institutional safeguards, said the Justice Initiative. Such safeguards should include:
- Hiring well trained and high quality translators to ensure misunderstandings are kept to an absolute minimum.
- Placing an international judge on the ground in Phnom Penh to facilitate judicial leadership and ensure that progress is being made to keep the court on schedule.
- Hiring law clerks immediately to assist the judges with legal research and preparation for the next Review Committee and plenary session.
- Organizing training for the judges in Cambodian law and procedure, international law and procedure, and international fair trial standards. The court has failed thus far to provide such training, undoubtedly contributing to the current difficulties in finding agreement on the rules.
- Holding the next Review Committee and plenary session outside Phnom Penh to ensure distractions and opportunities for political interference are minimized.
The success of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia requires continued and powerful diplomatic engagement and attention by donor states and the United Nations. International and Cambodian nongovernmental organizations also need to monitor the court, and publicly and independently report on the process as it unfolds. Transparency and a heightened sense of urgency are required of the court. All interested parties need to engage closely with the rules process, and to speak out loudly, if signs of political interference and delay appear to jeopardize the process.