Officials at the Khmer Rouge tribunal must act quickly regarding the future of the court by either committing to a second “mini-trial” or risking “an ignominious end” that would undermine its efforts to date, the George Soros-funded Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) has said in a new report.
Hearings in the first segment of Case 002, which was split into smaller trials to try to secure a conviction against the two ailing top leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, wrapped up last week with a verdict expected next year. A date has not yet been set for the start of the second mini-trial.
Central to the OSJI report, released Sunday, are issues of timeliness and money—compounded by a lack of transparency—which the organization said could see a subsequent trial scrapped before its completion.
“If [the U.N. and senior court officials] do not step up, two grim alternatives present themselves: either the court will limp along until there is an embarrassing blow-up that results in it winding up its operations in disgrace,” the report says. “Alternatively, it could enter an equally embarrassing state of limbo, with staff and judges leaving because the donors stop funding without actually making a decision about how to preserve the benefits of the court for Cambodians.
“Both of these consequences can and should be avoided by ending the current stalemate with proactive planning and honesty.”
A three-day Trial Management meeting on how to proceed has been scheduled for December 11.
“At this late stage, it appears that very little planning has taken place, partially because it remains unclear if the court will proceed with the second trial,” the OSJI said, adding that despite the upcoming meeting, “it is clear the court is a long way from being ready to start a second phase trial in the case.”
The OSJI said that while every effort must be made to ensure the court’s mandate—which actually spans four cases, two of which the government has repeatedly said it opposes—“concerns about whether that is feasible or practical have been raised.”
The age and health of Nuon Chea, 87, and Khieu Samphan, 82, need to be taken into consideration alongside the need for any future trials to be carried out in an expeditious manner, the OSJI report says. Their current trial took two years to complete.
The funding situation at the hybrid U.N./Cambodian court also needs to be assessed, the OSJI said. National staff have gone on strike twice since January after going unpaid for some months—a situation exacerbated by government claims that it could not uphold its side of the deal to establish the court by paying the salaries. Last month, the government said it would fulfill its obligations to pay the national staff through the end of the year.
“The donor states and the Government of Cambodia have not made a reliable commitment to adequately fund the court through a second Case 002 trial,” the OSJI said.
“If they are not willing to do so, they should say so honestly now and avoid the travesty of a trial that stops midway before its natural conclusion because of a lack of funding.
“The judges, the court administration, the U.N. and the Government of Cambodia should immediately explore options so that valuable work already done by the court is not lost should its operations be cut short, either because of the death of accused persons or because the donors decline to fund the court further.
“These processes must be as transparent as possible. If a decision is made by the donors, the U.N. and the Government of Cambodia that the trial should not go forward for political, practical or financial reasons, the parties must honestly say so immediately.”
The tribunal has so far cost about $200 million, and secured one conviction—that of former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch.