Wednesday, December 20, 2006

No Justice?

The latest publication to weigh in on the ECCC is the Economist with this gloomy story on the progress of the court. It laments the lack of funds, staff and political will, and questions how it will be possible to proceed. The author appears to be willing to give up on the process before it has even begun, seeing the hurdles as being just too high to overcome. The article even suggests that the international judges are 'sending a message' that they may not want to proceed even if the UN does.

Hard to know if all this is based on the authors own view of situation, or if the judges have been given off-the-record comments about their imminent departure. Meanwhile, there has been no indication of any work stoppage at the court, and several members of the ECCC have been appearing in front of the Cambodian Journalists Club to talk up the court and push them to keep up local news coverage.

At the same time, according the the Cambodia Daily, 'official letters' have been moving back and forth between the Deputy Prime Minster Sok An and the United Nations in New York over the Extraordinary Chambers Defence Office. The good news I supposed is that everyone is still talking to each other and working. The bad news... well I guess we will see what happens at the end of January.

No justice in this world
Dec 19th 2006 | PHNOM PENH
From The Economist print edition
Death is more likely than the law to catch up with the Khmers Rouges

“THINGS are going well,” says Robert Petit, a Canadian co-prosecutor at the UN-backed tribunal set up to try Khmers Rouges leaders for their atrocities. Five months after it started work, he says he is ready to recommend the first indictment as soon as the tribunal's Cambodian and international jurists have agreed on its rules of procedure. Sadly, no one is sure when, or even if, that will happen. Human Rights Watch, a lobby group, believes that “political interference has brought the whole process to a screeching halt.” A plenary meeting of Cambodian and foreign judges convened in late November to reach agreement. It proved a disastrous exercise in mutual incomprehension. Cambodian judges, who appeared to be taking instructions from elsewhere, reportedly complained that there was not enough time to get through the 113 articles in the draft rules, and that they paid too much heed to international, not national, law. The foreigners resisted but were dismayed by the refusal of the Cambodians to engage in serious discussion.

It was never going to be easy to deliver justice to victims of the Khmers Rouges 28 years after the end of their rule, which killed up to 2m people. Top leaders, starting with Pol Pot, have already died. With every delay it is more likely others will be dead before indictment. The tribunal's official title, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), hints at its limitations. Compared with the recent tribunals on former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, Sierra Leone and East Timor, Cambodia's is much more firmly based in national law. Under the agreement wrung by Hun Sen, the prime minister, from a reluctant UN in 2003, it is the first to have a majority of national judges.

Unfortunately, existing Cambodian law is weak on the crimes the tribunal is investigating. Worse, the judiciary is one of the world's least qualified and most corrupt. Human-rights groups say it is not an instrument of justice but a political tool. Moreover, Hun Sen and other prominent government figures are themselves former Khmers Rouges and are assumed to remain sensitive about the tribunal's investigations and its targets for prosecution.

The tribunal remains dogged by other weaknesses. There is a disturbing lack of safeguards for witnesses. The meagre budget so far provided by Japan and Western governments leaves the ECCC acutely short of manpower and equipment. Jim Goldston, a leading American international jurist has accused governments of feebly acquiescing in “official ineptitude, power-grabbing and duplicitousness”.

The tribunal has given its rules committee until the end of January to agree on procedures that meet international standards. If it does, these will go to a new plenary, probably in February. If not, Ban Ki-moon, the new UN secretary-general, will have to decide whether to exercise the opt-out clause inserted in the UN's agreement with Cambodia—precisely for fear of political interference. But even if the UN does remain engaged, the message foreign judges are sending is that they may not.

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