The witness support section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has no director, and court watchers are raising fresh concerns about the lack of adequate witness protection.
Peter Foster, the court’s UN Public Affairs Officer, said recruitment is actively under way, and the court has a candidate in mind, whom he declined to name.
“We haven’t had any complaints about security and safety,” Foster said.
But Sok Sam Oeun, the director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, said that two of the four civil parties his legal aid NGO is representing have sought to remain anonymous because they fear for their safety.
“They are concerned about security,” he said. “The Khmer Rouge traumatized them…. People don’t trust. They lost that.”
“Many current leaders were former Khmer Rouge. We don’t know what happens with cases at the ECCC. For example, if victims blame someone of high rank, what happens? We don’t know,” he added.
Some victims “have jobs in the government and don’t want to be public because they don’t know about the” political ramifications, he said.
One person at the court involved with investigations, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said his work had been stymied by the lack of adequate protective measures.
“I know there are people who are afraid,” he said. “They say, ‘I want to talk to you. Can you protect me?’ I say, ‘No. You should be brave. You’ve taken many risks in your life as a revolutionary. Now is the time to take another one.’ They say, ‘bye-bye.’”
Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng said that judges decide whether a perceived threat is real enough to merit protective action. If it is, he continued, “co-investigating judges will order the necessary protection measures, including hiding their addresses and not revealing their names.”
He added that the court can’t protect everyone who claims to be threatened. “The budget is limited,” he said.
The tribunal’s chief of security, Mao Chandara, said he was too busy to speak with a reporter Wednesday.
In late January, co-investigating judges traveled to Pailin reportedly to assuage fears about mass arrests and encourage witnesses to step forward. Two public affairs officers stayed on in Samlot, Battambang, for seven days to distribute posters and booklets and talk with people, Foster said.
“We’re very concerned that the witness protection program is barely up and running, particularly given the fact that the tribunal is going forward,” said Sara Colm, Human Rights Watch’s senior researcher on Cambodia. She singled out Duch’s visits to Tuol Sleng and the Choeung Ek killing fields last week as troublesome.
“For the court to bring witnesses and victims into such a high-profile event, when it is so easy for many people to know about at least some of those who were brought in, it feels like they are jumping the gun, moving before things are ready,” she said.
The tribunal’s public affairs chief, Helen Jarvis, declined to comment on whether victims and witnesses at those reconstructions were offered any protective measures upon returning home.
According to the tribunal’s 2007 progress report, the witness and expert support unit has so far focused on providing logistical and administrative support.
As of December, the unit had two staff members and had provided two consultations to the co-investigating judges on protective measures. In addition, rules governing the treatment of witnesses under Cambodian law and an information booklet for witnesses have been finalized.
The court is also actively working to prepare a draft agreement with Cambodian police, who are responsible for witness protection under the rules of the court.
In its Jan 30 budget estimate, the court asked for $372,500 for witness support. The court estimated that 210 domestic witnesses would be called in 2008, and 105 every year after. It budgeted for 22 witnesses from abroad each year.