A former US ambassador at large for war crimes has expressed cautious optimism that the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s rules committee will succeed in setting the court’s internal rules by the end of the week.
While there have been difficulties in talks over the rules—which need to be established before the court can proceed—the tribunal has already overcome similar hardships in the 10-year process of its creation, said David Scheffer, who was war crimes ambassador under former US president Bill Clinton.
“We’ve been at despondent moments many times before in this process, and we pick ourselves up and go to the table,” he said in an interview in Phnom Penh on Monday.
Last November, tribunal officials failed to agree on the internal procedures governing the way the court will function. Nine Cambodian and foreign judges of the rules committee returned to talks on March 7, amid discussion that international staffers might withdraw if a resolution is not reached by Friday.
Scheffer, currently director of the Center for International Human Rights at the Northwestern University School of Law in the US city of Chicago, said the remaining areas of disagreement are reaching a “narrow point.”
“If [the judges] can resolve a few issues, then they will have succeeded in ultimately approving the internal rules,” he said. “I am somewhat optimistic of what the outcome will be this week.”
Peter Foster, public affairs officer at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, said Tuesday that the talks were enjoying “constructive dialogue.”
“I would join Mr Scheffer in being cautiously optimistic about the results,” he said.
Scheffer, who was involved in founding negotiations for the International Criminal Court as well as tribunals for Rwanda, the former Yugoslavia and Sierra Leone, said that the fate of the Khmer Rouge tribunal had many times appeared grim.
“It has taken longer to establish this court than it has any other criminal tribunal,” he said.
Conflict between the need to meet international legal standards and Cambodian qualms over national sovereignty has long been a problem, he said. “That is a tension that has always been in these negotiations.”
Scheffer said that after he left office in 2001, talks over the tribunal frequently ran aground. UN officials withdrew from talks for nearly all of 2002. “I’ve been around this block so many times,” he said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he feels that the rules committee can overcome its differences.
“I think if both sides begin to put the victims on the agenda as their priority, then we can resolve the problem,” he said, adding that the ECCC cannot afford to repeat the difficulties of the past. “I hope we don’t repeat history,” he said.