After a decade of negotiation leading to the adoption of its internal rules in June 2007, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is the first serious effort to bring the law to bear, however belatedly and incompletely, on the horrendous crimes committed by leaders of the Khmer Rouge more than a quarter of a century ago. In power for just under four years (1975 to 1979), the Khmer Rouge more than decimated Cambodia. At least 1.7 million Cambodians, fully one quarter of the population, were killed or died as a result of the oppressive policies imposed by the Khmer Rouge, with execution, starvation, exhaustion from slave labor, malnutrition, and torture as the leading causes of death.
On July 26, 2010, Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, was convicted of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. The judgment was an important milestone for the ECCC. The case against Duch focused on the infamous prison Tuol Sleng, where at least 12,200 Cambodians were imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately killed. He was the first former Khmer Rouge to stand trial at the ECCC for the horrendous crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Conviction aside, the success of the ECCC experiment will be determined largely by how the Cambodian people and Cambodian institutions respond to the tribunal. Failure to integrate victims’ voices into the upcoming trials or interminable delay in bringing the defendants to justice will undermine the legitimacy of the ECCC. At the same time, should the Tribunal devise a strategy for meaningful and streamlined participation by victims, the ECCC could become an example for other tribunals attempting to bring the perpetrators of mass crimes to justice.
After the First Trial
Six months following Duch’s sentencing, and in light of the second trial of the ECCC in the coming year, the Human Rights Center conducted a follow-up survey in the fall of 2010. The resulting report, published in June 2011, presents a representative assessment of the population’s view about the ECCC’s work, and the trial of Duch, as well as the outcome and impact of the proceedings.
So We Will Never Forget
In the fall of 2008, the Human Rights Center conducted a national population-based survey about knowledge and attitudes towards social reconstruction and the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). The results were presented in Cambodia in January 2009 through a series of workshops with national and international stakeholders including national and international NGOs, diplomatic representations, UN agencies, ECCC judges and staff, and members of the national judicial system.
In Search of Justice
Little attention has been given to perceptions of the ECCC amongst Cambodian diaspora communities, particularly in the United States. In Search of Justice: A Survey among Cambodian-Americans about their Participation in the Khmer Rouge Trial examines participation in the ECCC of Cambodians who have settled in the United States and now form part of the Cambodian diaspora. This research was conducted by the 2009–2011 Rotary Peace Fellows at UC Berkeley, supervised by Patrick Vinck and Phuong Pham.
Cambodia’s Search for Justice
In Spring 2009, Christine Malumphy and B.J. Pierce, interns at the International Human Rights Law Clinic prepared the the paper “Cambodia’s Search for Justice: Opportunities and Challenges for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,” which reviews the development of the ECCC and identifies some barriers to the its mission.
Eric Stover, Mychelle Balthazard, and K. Alexa Koenig, “Confronting Duch: Civil Party Participation in Case 001 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,” International Review of the Red Cross 93, no. 882 (June 2011): 503–46.
Phuong Pham, “The Khmer Rouge Tribunal in Cambodia Under Scrutiny,” IntLawGrrls, June 15, 2011.