A day after the Khmer Rouge tribunal indicted four senior regime leaders, the court changed its rules to make it more likely that the 2,123 victims who will participate in their trial next year can reap tangible benefits.
Victims’ lawyers will now be able to seek external funding for court-awarded reparations, the ECCC announced in a Friday statement following a weeklong judges’ conclave.
Previously, court rules said reparations must be borne entirely by the convicted person. This is not much help to victims at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, where all five defendants have been declared indigent.
“Experience has also shown that where convicted persons are indigent, reparations awards…are unlikely to yield significant tangible results for civil parties,” the court wrote in a press release on Friday.
Indeed, many victim participants in the trial of Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, were left bitterly disappointed after they were awarded only minimal reparations when a judgment was announced in July.
Constrained by Duch’s indigence, judges said they could not provide civil parties with anything that cost money, restricting reparations to writing the victims’ names in the verdict and compiling Duch’s statements of apology.
Under the new system, civil party lead co-lawyers can ask the court’s Trial Chamber to allow some reparations to be externally funded. The lawyers must work with the court’s victims unit to design these reparations requests.
“Such measures may be funded by donor contributions and developed in collaboration with governmental and non-governmental organizations external to the ECCC,” the court said.
The judges, however, rejected another proposal that would allow the Trial Chamber to make non-binding recommendations to the government about reparations.
Silke Studzinsky, who represents more than 500 victims in Case 002, said that the new scheme was promising, although adopting the second proposal would have made it even stronger. She said some possible awards to victims, such as building memorials on public land, would require the court to work closely with the government.
“That is disappointing for civil parties, of course, as some potential ideas about reparations could depend on the cooperation of the government,” she said. “But at least it opens the doors much more than it was before.”
Pich Ang, the recently appointed Cambodian lead civil party co-lawyer, agreed that the new system would benefit civil parties.
“Relating to this amendment, we have more hope that when the court opens, there will be participation from outsiders, including participation of local and international NGOs involved with reparations,” he said.
Mr Ang said reparations requests were likely to include free health care, memorial stupas and education centers.
The court also said that it had adopted other “consequential” measures to streamline victim participation in Case 002, but did not elaborate. ECCC legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen said he could not comment.