Friday, December 08, 2006

A Million Complaints

The International Co-Prosecutor may have put his foot in it with this interview where his basically invites anyone wishing to lodge a complaint to come out to the ECCC right now. I hope they have the staff in place to handle the probable bus loads of people looking to tell their story and get their moment in the court. It might take 30 years just to hear what each potential witness has to say.....

Friday, December 8, 2006
ECCC Welcomes Victims' Complaints, Risks Deluge

By Erika Kinetz

As the long-delayed trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders inches forward, victims of the regime from as far away as France are asking themselves how they might be a party to such belated justice.

The best answer, at the moment may be to go directly to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on the outskirts of Phnom Penh and talk to the prosecutor's office.

"Any victims of a crime can certainly come forward and register a complaint with the office of the co-prosecutors," co-prosecutor Robert Petit said this week. "Unfortunately, at this point, the only way to do that is for people to come here," he said.

Until the rules that govern the participation of victims and witnesses in the tribunal are adopted, Cambodian law applies, Petit said. And under Cambodian law, victims of a crime can complain personally.

If the complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the ECCC—which is empowered to prosecute senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those most responsible for certain crimes committed between 1975 and 1979—the prosecutor may launch an investigation.

So far, Petit said, less than a dozen individuals have filed complaints at the court, a few of which —he declined to say exactly how many—have resulted in investigations. "Theoretically, any person who was a victim of Khmer Rouge crimes during our period has a valid complaint against those most responsible and senior leaders," he said.

This creates an obvious problem of scale. Nearly 2 million people perished during the regime of Democratic Kampuchea, and many more suffered horrendously.

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that at least half of the 4,000 people DC-Cam has interviewed in the last decade wanted to file complaints. In addition, Youk Chhang said he has a 1983 petition against the Khmer Rouge signed by 1.6 million victims, which he plans to file with the court.

About seven years ago, DC-Cam staffers asked several hundred people who signed that petition if they still wanted their complaint considered. Their answer, Youk Chhang said, was a resounding "Yes."

Petit admitted that he was unprepared for the potential deluge. Even a few thousand complaints, he said, would be impossible to respond to, much less investigate.

The office of the co-prosecutors has just three researchers and is in the process of negotiating for assistance with investigations from the Cambodian judicial police, Petit said.

Victims are potential witnesses, and Petit said that help could also come from the recently established witness support office of the ECCC and from a proposed victim's unit.

Harri Moilanen, the ECCC's new support coordinator for witnesses and experts, arrived in Phnom Penh six weeks ago. Moilanen, a Finnish national who spent nine years in the victims and witnesses section of the International Criminal Court in Yugoslavia, wrote in an e-mail that he has been working with two Cambodian colleagues to setup a witness management service, but had not yet had any dealings with victims.

Helen Jarvis, chief of public affairs at the ECCC, declined to name the two Cambodian witness support officers.

"Our policy is that certain people (such as spokespersons and judicial officers) are in the public eye, but that we do not provide personal details of other staff to the media," she wrote in an email,

The two officers were recruited through an open selection process, and all Cambodian staff application files can be reviewed by donors at any time. Jarvis did not respond to repeated requests for the budget of the witness support office.

Petit said that having just three witness support officers was "wholly insufficient."

"The NGO community could have a big impact in organizing people," he added.

Youk Chhang said that DC-Cam could help victims who are interested in filing a complaint with the ECCC.

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