ECCC wraps up primary mandate with mixed reviews

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra speaks at a press conference ahead of the final verdict in Khieu Samphan’s appeal, which will be delivered on September 22. INFORMATION MINISRTY

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is set to deliver its final verdict which will bring an end to Case 002/02 over the final appeal filed by former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan regarding his life sentence for crimes against humanity, genocide, and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

The ruling will be announced on September 22 and will be the court’s final ruling before closing down the active judicial portion of its mandate after Cases 003 and 004 were dropped due to the “determination of lack of mental competency”.

This final ruling will bring an end to the active investigatory and prosecutorial duties of the Khmer Rouge tribunal after more than 16 years and at a cost of about $337 million.

Case 002/02 resulted in a life sentence for Samphan for genocide against the Vietnamese, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions while in power. The court combined this sentence with the life imprisonment announced in Case 002/01.

Now 91, Samphan is the only surviving fomer Khmer Rouge leader to await a final verdict.

ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra said it was a positive sign that they had reached the end of Case 002/02, despite the fact that only Samphan remained alive.

He said this is a positive achievement by the tribunal because it sets the standard that there should be no statute of limitations for the prosecution and punishment of those who commit grave historical crimes like massacres and the most serious human rights abuses.

He said the search for truth and justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime and all such regimes past, present or future should be one of the primary activities of the international justice system.

Pheaktra also noted that holding hearings in court which followed the rules of evidence and compelled witness testimony and so forth were extremely valuable tools for finding out the truth regarding historical events that are contested by one side or another.

He said the hearings helped to answer definitively questions for the public as to why the Khmer Rouge evacuated everyone from the city, had a policy of forced marriages, created the farming cooperatives, undertook their many internal purges or decided to commit any number of other inhumane acts.

“The trials and hearings spoke the truth to the world on behalf of the victims, both those who lost their lives and those who survived, while also permitting some restoration of honour and assisting with emotional reconciliations, but especially this was done to give justice to the millions of victims,” he said.

He continued that both the verdict in Case 002/2 and the previous trial had important lessons for the world to learn from, especially the younger generation of Cambodians.

He said it was paramount that they understand the history of this massacre and genocide of nearly two million of their people, which also reflected the mistakes of the leaders of the country over the course of many years that led the country to suffer a world-historic catastrophic tragedy.

Pheaktra emphasised that the purpose of the court was to seek truth and justice and that it was not established for revenge, but rather to advance the principle of national unification to create a lasting and durable peace.

Similarly, Sok Sam Oeun, a veteran human rights lawyer and keen observer of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said he believed that it was the right time to bring about the closure of Case 002/02 and the court’s mandate.

He said the Khmer Rouge tribunal made a significant contribution to the education of the younger generations of Cambodians who did not personally witness those events, as well as providing employment and human resources capacity training to Cambodian legal staff who are now far more capable of assisting with the judicial system in the Kingdom after serving on a court. He said this court should be considered a model institution in terms of ethics.

“The outcome of this trial is a signal to the world and especially to the leaders of countries committing human rights violations systematically. They cannot escape the law. Do not commit these gravely immoral acts. As for the trial process, it was also a sort of cure for some of the mental illness suffered by all victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide,” he added.

Timothy Williams, a researcher on the crime of genocide who has studied the Khmer Rouge closely, said that the tribunal’s trial made an important contribution to the cause of justice in Cambodia and internationally and that it was important that the top level Khmer Rouge leaders who were still alive when the court commenced proceedings were held accountable.

“The court considered the actions of just a very few people as bearing responsibility for the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge regime. When I talk to most survivors of this regime, they feel the number of people tried wasn’t sufficient and the work remains incomplete,” he said.

Williams said that he wanted the international community and especially the Cambodian government to set up a separate non-penal commission to answer questions and determine the entire truth about the Khmer Rouge regime, though he understood that such a plan could be difficult to implement because of the political situation.

Short of that, he said the next best option would be more funding from all sources for any non-government or government institutions that wished to continue the work of documenting the Khmer Rouge’s crimes in an organised manner and do further scholarly research on the three-year nightmare Cambodia endured at their hands.