Khmer Rouge tribunal shares its experience with other tribunals
A delegation from the Serbian war tribunal visited the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in March and held a series of meetings with the Court’s top officials from the Chambers and other offices.
Having completed its first trial, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is now taking stock of, and sharing, its experiences and lessons learned. Under the terms of agreement between the Cambodian Government and the United Nations, the Court is mandated to bring to trial senior leaders and those most responsible for crimes committed during the Pol Pot regime from April 1975 to January 1979. In March this year, the ECCC hosted a three-day workshop on outreach in transitional justice in collaboration with the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ). ICTJ researchers and three outreach experts from around the globe gathered in Phnom Penh to exchange lessons learned with the ECCC outreach teams as well as judicial officials who regularly participate in the Court’s outreach activities.
The ECCC presented its efforts to bring the Court closer to Cambodians. During the first trial against a former security prison chief last year, the ECCC facilitated attendance to the public hearing of more than 31,300 visitors, mostly rural Cambodians in traditional checkered scarves and flip-flops. It was an unprecedented number in any other internationalized tribunal. Even now, the Court welcomes more than 600 visitors every week and briefs them on the work of the Court.
The workshop was an opportunity for the ECCC to learn from other tribunals and to shape a better outreach strategy to reach out to the Cambodian people. Wanda Hall, founder of a community radio project in Congo in relation to the International Criminal Court (ICC), emphasized the importance of genuine dialogue between the ICC and the local communities. Refik Hodzic, Registry Liaison Officer for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), highlighted a lack of institutional support for outreach and a gap between the ICTY and its constituency in the past, and suggested an institutionalized outreach approach be a key to success for any internationalized tribunal.
“You have to connect in such ways to create a legacy,” said Mohamed Suma, Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law in Sierra Leone who shared his experience on the important role of civil society.
Also in March, an eight-member delegation from the Serbian war tribunal visited the ECCC and held a series of meetings with the Court’s top officials from the Chambers, offices of Co-Investigating Judges and Co-Prosecutors, and other court support sections. The representatives of both tribunals discussed lessons learned and challenges, such as applying a growing body of international criminal law in a local legal setting and delivering justice by a court placed in the society where the crimes took place.
“The visit to the ECCC was a valuable experience for the representatives of the Serbian War Crimes Chamber,” said Ivan Jovanovic, a legal advisor for the Serbian tribunal who coordinated the visit. “Although the Serbian special chamber is a purely domestic court dealing with mass atrocities, with no international participation, the visit provided a useful insight into some of the main challenges common to the both courts.”
Most recently, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, The Legal Counsel, Patricia O’Brien, also visited the Court. Ms O’Brien expressed her deep appreciation for the work done by the Court and its staff. At a meeting between Ms. O’Brien and the Deputy Prime Minister of Cambodia, Sok An, both parties expressed their strong support for the ECCC on behalf of the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia respectively. “The ECCC has confirmed its ability to conduct complex international criminal trials to international standards”, they said in their joint statement. “Both the government and the United Nations are committed to ending impunity for the atrocities of the former Khmer Rouge regime, and fully support and respect the ECCC and its independent judicial process”.