Completion of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s current caseload is “doubtful” as the health of the two remaining war crimes defendants declines and overall donor fatigue continues to delay the proceedings, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) concluded in its latest assessment of the court.
Just over a week after the death of Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary, who passed away in a hospital from ill health, OSJI said that the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s aims of sentencing war criminals and setting an example for Cambodian’s widely distrusted local courts will likely not be achieved.
“It remains doubtful that the ECCC will successfully complete its current caseload and make a positive contribution to ending impunity and increasing respect for the rule of law in Cambodia,” the U.S.-based OSJI said in the report.
“The court’s challenges stem from two main problems, one partially in control of ECCC stakeholders, and one generally outside of their control. The first factor is the specter of political interference hanging over the work and reputation of the court, as evidenced most starkly in the lack of progress in Cases 003 and 004,” the organization said.
“The second factor is the recent death of Ieng Sary and the advanced age and frailty of the remaining accused persons—particularly in Case 002—which make it urgent to complete proceedings and produce a judgment before the remaining accused die or become incapacitated.”
Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the tribunal, declined to comment on the issues the report raises.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal will hold a hearing on Monday regarding the health of Nuon Chea, 86, one of two remaining defendants at the tribunal, who has been hospitalized several times, most recently last month.
“The Trial Chamber is having a hearing on the medical condition of Nuon Chea and soon after this they will make a decision on severance in Case 002,” Mr. Olsen said, referring to the contested structure of the current case before the tribunal.
Viktor Koppe, Nuon Chea’s international co-lawyer, said earlier this year that his aging defendant was “approaching death” after he was hospitalized with severe bronchitis, which caused a delay of proceedings as the Pol Pot regime’s former chief ideologue did not waive his right to be present during testimony.
Monday’s hearing on Nuon Chea’s health, the OSJI report states, will help determine whether “it is feasible to hold a series of smaller trials…or whether the health of the accused is so fragile that this is not feasible.”
One of the very few positive developments at the ECCC over the past six months, the OSJI report noted, was Co-Investigation Judge Mark Harmon’s announcement to investigate cases 003 and 004 and a total of five new suspects.
Both cases, which are vehemently opposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government, are critical to the court’s legacy and an understanding of Khmer Rouge atrocities by the public, the OSJI report said.
“The Cambodian government regularly uses the domestic justice system to punish political opponents and secure impunity for political allies. In this context, cases 003 and 004 could either further entrench perceptions that the justice system exists to protect the politically powerful, or demonstrate that…the politically connected are subject to the same standards of accountability as everyone else,” OSJI said.