The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s 29 Cambodian and international officials on Monday began their second attempt to approve the court’s crucial internal procedures, without which the trial of members of the regime cannot proceed.
Participants in the eight-day conference, which some have warned could be the final attempt to approve the rules, evoked on Monday the optimism expressed in recent weeks that the difficulties which prevented the adoption of the rules in November would not recur.
However, in her opening remarks, trial chamber Judge Sylvia Cartwright, vice chair of the plenary session, sounded a note of caution.
“It is too soon to discuss the outcome, and it is not yet time to be confident that we can reach a satisfactory conclusion,” she said.
“But we know that if the internal rules are adopted in their present draft form, we have a foundation from which it may be possible to ensure free, fair and transparent trials,” she added.
Though the work of the court’s two co-prosecutors is currently underway, the court cannot proceed without the 114 draft rules, which govern how a case will proceed from the investigation phase to sentencing and the appeal process.
Tribunal officials said Monday that among the first orders of business was to agree formally on how voting to approve the rules would be carried out and who would be eligible.
Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bun Leng said Monday’s opening discussions had been productive.
“It went well. There was no problem,” he said, adding that finding equivalent legal terms in French, English and Khmer had slowed proceedings.
“There is no longer any reason it won’t be successful,” he said, adding that all the tribunal’s officers are eager to trade discussion for courtroom action.
“We don’t want to have to talk anymore,” he said.
International Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit said that despite their optimism, participants in the plenary were well aware that the hour was growing late and failure remained possible.
“I don’t think I am beyond surprise, and anything probably can happen,” he said, describing Monday’s talks as “slow going.”
“I do think that everybody is quite conscious that this is the last chance, and that will probably weigh very much on the decision-making process,” he added.
Hisham Mousar, general coordinator of the Khmer Rouge tribunal and International Criminal Court program for rights group Adhoc, said that he felt the only thing standing in the way of successfully adopting the rules was a possible lack of will to do so.
“I think the rules will be adopted on 13 June,” he said. “If the rules are not adopted, and that is a big ‘if,’ it will be because of a lack of political will.”
If the rules are adopted, Petit said his office anticipated being able to forward its first case or cases to the investigating judges within weeks.
“If the rules are adopted and they don’t change too much, we should be ready to go,” he said.
At Monday’s opening day, Michelle Lee, the Deputy Director of Administration at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, administered an oath of office to two international judges who had yet to be sworn in.
Those sworn in were Reserve Supreme Court Chamber Judge and former New York City prosecutor Martin Karopkin and reserve Trial Chamber judge Claudia Fenz, an Austrian and former judge at the UN mission in Kosovo.
(Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)