Judges from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia convened Tuesday for a two-week meeting to hash out a revised version of the contested procedural rules that they failed to adopt last year.
The progress of the ECCC’s nine-member rules committee is being watched closely amid increasingly pessimistic reports that the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s very future is in danger.
Without the rules, which govern everything from trial chamber design to victim’s rights, the long-anticipated trial of those most responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million people in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 cannot proceed.
The rules committee is expected to conclude its deliberations Jan 26.
If they reach substantive agreement, a new plenary session to establish the ECCC’s internal rules could be called on to vote in late March.
“We expect them to be successful,” one diplomat said recently on condition of anonymity.
In November, the ECCC failed to adopt the rules as planned. Since then, members of the rules committee, which is comprised of both Cambodian and international judges, have been working to establish legal foundations for their arguments.
Among the outstanding issues are: Trials in absentia, which are permitted under Cambodian law but questioned by many in the international legal field; the role of the defense, which in December was the subject of a politically-charged exchange of letters between Sok An and the UN in New York; and the role of prosecutors at the court.
“We’ll try to move ahead and solve the remaining problems,” Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde said after the November meeting.
Lemonde said Tuesday that he could not comment further on the closed-door deliberations.
Co-Investigating Judge You Bun Leng said that he could not discuss the initial meeting in detail except to say that it went well.
“We met each other today and the result is good,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
Meanwhile, many are watching for signs of progress.
“We’ll be scrutinizing the process as much as possible,” said Theary Seng, the executive director of the Center for Social Development.
“We are concerned that politicization is strongly present,” she added.
Some consider the talks a litmus test of sorts—a way to help separate politics from the technical problems that bogged down the first plenary session in No-vember, which ambitiously tried to cover more than 100 complex legal points in just a week.
Chantal Beaubien, a legal assistant at rights group Adhoc, noted two potential flash points slated for debate:
Who controls the registration of ECCC lawyers and the participation of civil parties in the court, which could, she said, add to the breadth of prosecution and help ensure a truly independent trial.
This time around, adequate time has been set aside for careful deliberation of the rules, ECCC public affairs officer Peter Foster said.
“All the members will have had the time to fully review the draft rules and consider legal opinions on all areas of concern before sitting down at the table,” Foster wrote in an e-mail Tuesday.
“We hope this will lead to a positive result.”