At the start of a weeklong conference of judges and prosecutors yesterday, the Khmer Rouge tribunal announced that 4,004 survivors of the Pol Pot regime have applied to be civil parties in the recently concluded investigation of five Khmer Rouge leaders.
The applications were among forms delivered by 8,190 people claiming to have witnessed or suffered crimes occurring during the three years, eight months and 20 days of Khmer Rouge rule, judges announced in statements yesterday marking the opening of the conference.
Though subject to judicial determinations and virtually guaranteed defense challenges, the victim numbers bring to over 8,000 the members of the public seeking to participate in the forthcoming trials of the Khmer Rouge leaders.
Though the deadline for civil party applications expired on Friday, prosecutors announced last week that they would continue to accept victim complaints until Feb 8. In theory, complaints may also be accepted at later stages of the trial process.
Since its inception, the court has wrestled with the complaints of critical NGOs and officials from within the Khmer Rouge tribunal itself over the sufficiency of efforts to reach out to eligible members of the public who may want to participate as civil parties or witnesses in the tribunal.
During this week’s conference of judges and prosecutors, the court is expected to reform the process of victims’ inclusion in the trial process, ending the possibility of the court hearing the victims claims individually in court.
Dame Silvia Cartwright, a trial judge and the vice-president of the plenary session, said yesterday that the large number of victims who are seeking to participate in Case 002 is the most pressing issue currently confronting the court.
“Many are in poor health and most are haunted by what they have experienced,” Ms Cartwright said in prepared remarks. “They number in the thousands, not hundreds or tens. It is vital that their voices and their accounts of their suffering be part of ECCC proceedings.”
But, Ms Cartwright added, “in order to achieve this without the trial being completely overwhelmed, we have recognized that procedures must evolve.”
Currently facing charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in Case 002 are former Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith, former head of state Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and Nuon Chea, the chief ideologue of the regime. Former secret police chairman Kaing Guek Eav, whose trial, Case 001, concluded in September, was also investigated in the court’s second case.
During Duch’s trial, civil parties were divided into four groups each represented by a team of lawyers. A consensus emerged among judges last year that this system was not only time-consuming and repetitious but risked overwhelming the court and causing it to fail once the number of victims rose into the thousands.
Civil party lawyers in Case 002 will now be subservient to a pair of lead lawyers responsible for the overall presentation of their case. Such a system, however, has already been criticized by lawyers for civil parties who say their clients are being denied the right to choose their own lawyer, and that the lead lawyers may not master the fact of their clients’ case.
Helen Jarvis, head of the court’s victims unit, which is slated to be renamed the victims section, said yesterday that the rate of participant applications had seen a “very marked increase” over the past few months, with the court taking in 995 victim information forms in January alone.
“The mounting rate of people who have submitted applications indicates their growing knowledge of the court, and their willingness and wish to become active in the process,” Ms Jarvis said.
But Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia and frequent critic of its outreach operations, said he felt the number of civil parties and complainants should be much higher given the number of Cambodians affected by Khmer Rouge atrocities during the 1975-1979 regime.
“If the court from the beginning had full-scale outreach, this number could have been as high as half a million by now,” Mr Chhang said. DC-Cam helped more than 1,800 victims deliver information forms to the court.
“If the court had made the Victims Unit a priority three years ago, in three years the number could have grown very high, but the court put the victims low on the agenda.”
Also yesterday, newly appointed UN Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley and reserve UN Co-Prosecutor, Nicholas Koumjian, were sworn in before the court, and Plenary President Kong Srim announced that three of the court’s international judges will soon shuffle their roles.
Dutch Pre-Trial Chamber Judge Katinka Lahuis will become assume a less active role as reserve judge in that chamber, and French Supreme Court Chamber Reserve Judge Catherine Marchi-Uhel will replace her. Zambian Pre-Trial Chamber Reserve Judge Florence Mumba will move to the Supreme Court Chamber to replace Judge Marchi-Uhel.
After reviewing proposed amendments to the tribunal’s internal rules, the plenary is to conclude on Feb 9.