ang snuol district, Kandal province – The trial judges who will sit on the Khmer Rouge tribunal have yet to move into their offices at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia’s headquarters, but the buildings are filling up fast.
Powerpoint presentations roll slowly on behind closed doors, and villagers from across the country come for lectures in the wilting auditorium, hoping to learn just what this late promise of justice might mean.
The co-prosecutors and co-investigating judges, who moved in early last month, continue their quiet work at opposite ends of a long hallway. The first indication of who may be indicted by the tribunal could come before the end of the year, said tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath.
In the meantime, the big issue is lunch.
Working across three languages to ensure justice is hard enough, but it turns out that figuring out what everyone at the ECCC likes to eat is no easy matter, either.
The Shop, a cafe on Phnom Penh’s Street 240 popular with expatriates that was recruited in February to provide catering services to the ECCC, was temporarily replaced in late September by Pkay Preak, a Khmer catering service.
Many Khmer staffers never ate food from The Shop, preferring to head to a nearby gas station or undertake the modest drive to Phnom Penh International Airport for lunch.
“It was fine for our foreign friends,” Reach Sambath said of The Shop and its lunchtime fare.
But, he added, “Cambodians cannot eat it.”
Ask them to subsist on goat cheese salads, he said, and “the Khmer staff will die in two days. The Shop is good, but not for everybody.”
In August, the majority Cambodian contingent of the ECCC convened a working group to discuss the matter of lunch.
Griet Lorre, a Belgian national who opened The Shop five years ago, said she knew Cambodians weren’t crazy about her lasagna and shepherd’s pie, but that she offered a hot Asian dish every day too. Most cost less than $2.50.
The real problem, she added, was the lack of a kitchen.
“To make fresh Khmer food, I needed a kitchen,” she said. Lunch orders at the ECCC had to be placed by 10 am so the food could be prepared in the catering kitchen Lorre leases at the Northbridge International School and delivered to the Kandal province court headquarters by lunchtime.
Lorre said she pulled out of the Khmer Rouge tribunal because she didn’t like the terms of a catering agreement the ECCC presented to her in late September. She said she would have had to construct a building for the kitchen, pay rent, allow other caterers to use the facility, and charge low prices.
Pkay Preak was then hired on an emergency, temporary basis.
But now the international contingent at the ECCC is getting indigestion.
“The offering of frog and tripe in one sitting last week is an example,” Peter Foster, the public affairs officer at the tribunal, wrote in an e-mail.
Lest anyone go hungry, Sean Visoth, the administrative director of the ECCC, convened a bilateral catering committee earlier this month, which will soon open a bidding process to select a new caterer by January, Foster wrote.
Meanwhile, on Tuesday, lines of people moved down a $2 buffet in the light-filled canteen of the ECCC, piling on rice, curry, and sour soup.
There has, however, been one concession made to the court’s foreign friends: French bread.
“We’ll find a solution that works for everyone,” Reach Sambath said.
“We are here not to fight about food,” he added. “We are here to find justice. This is a small matter.”