Khmer Rouge Tribunal prepares for next tasks after final ruling

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Khieu Samphan during his appeal hearing in August, 2021. ECCC

On September 22, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) will rule on the final appeal motion in Case 002/02 concerning former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan in connection with crimes against humanity, genocide and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Convention.

This final ruling by the ECCC’s Supreme Court Chamber on Samphan's appeal against his life sentence would bring Case 002/02, along with the decade-long tribunal, to a close as there are no further cases on the docket.

Prior to the pronouncement of the verdict, the ECCC held a press conference on September 20 to reveal the procedural steps in the case and the background of the proceedings from the court's first day up to its final hearing.

Neth Pheaktra, chief of the Public Affairs Office and spokesman for the ECCC, confirmed that Samphan’s verdict would bring to a close its mission to seek truth and justice for the Khmer Rouge victims through trials against former senior leaders of the Democratic Kampuchea regime and those most responsible for the heinous crimes committed from April 17, 1975 to January 6, 1979.

An estimated 1.7 million to 2.2 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror through a combination of mass starvation, brutal labour conditions and executions of anyone deemed an enemy or not sufficiently devoted to the regime, which carried out frequent internal purges.

Pheaktra emphasised that this landmark ruling would bring to a close the historic achievements of the Cambodian court, which was jointly operated with the participation of the UN and the international community on behalf of all Cambodian people and especially the victims of the Khmer Rouge regime.

"September 22 … will be a historic day for the international justice system when the ECCC issues its final ruling to bring to completion its many achievements.

"Of course, we do not yet know what the actual decision will be and this will depend on the legal judgement rendered by the justices presiding over the Supreme Court Chamber,” he said.

Samphan – now 91 and the only surviving former senior Khmer Rouge leader – has been in custody since November 19, 2007, when he was first arrested and has remained there through his August 7, 2014 conviction.

The crimes against humanity Samphan participated in included the executions of the former regime's loyalists after the fall of Phnom Penh in April, 1975 and for the subsequent forced evacuation of the civilian population of the capital, which led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people.

Samphan was also found guilty of grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and genocide against the Vietnamese.

He and his lawyer appealed the November 2018 verdict, pleading that the Supreme Court Chamber reduces his life sentence to a limited prison term. The Supreme Court Chamber held hearings on the appeal from August 16-19 last year, with both the prosecution and Samphan's defence attorneys presenting arguments to the court.

Case 002/02 involving Samphan and the late Nuon Chea began in October, 2014.

During the trial in Case 002, the court heard from 185 witnesses in total, including 114 factual witnesses, 63 civil parties and eight public experts. More than 100,000 people participated indirectly in the hearing by following the proceedings live as they happened.

Pheaktra said that after the announcement of the verdict on Samphan's final appeal, the ECCC would have another three years to carry out its two main remaining work-related tasks.

The first tasks is instituting a system of management for the archives of the trial cases of the ECCC, which needed to be kept in full in accordance with international standards and to allow the public to see and study the records now and in the future.

The other task is to establish mechanisms for the education of the public through dissemination of information on the important achievements of the ECCC, which will also be of assistance to Cambodian and international researchers, as well as enhance the ECCC's legacy in order to prevent the return of genocide and crimes against humanity in Cambodia and elsewhere in the world.

Pheaktra recalled that the 16-year mission of the ECCC began in February, 2006 and ran until August this year with a total cost of $337.7 million, of which Cambodia provided $45.5 million in funding while international donors provided another $292.2 million.

Pheaktra continued that the ECCC donors were from 39 countries and included government agencies, non-governmental organisations and the private sector. Japan was the largest donor, providing $88.26 million and accounting for 31 per cent of the total court and tribunal expenditures.

The second-largest donor was Cambodia itself, followed by Australia with $35 million; the EU with $32 million; Germany with $14 million; Sweden with $14 million; UK with $13 million and France with $10 million, as well as smaller amounts from other countries.