With emotions beginning to settle after Monday’s verdict in the Duch trial, civil party lawyers yesterday expressed regret at the quiet departure of the court’s outreach coordinator for victims.
Neou Kassie, who was hired just over a year ago to coordinate advocacy and communication with the public, in particular civil parties and people seeking redress for Khmer Rouge crimes, concluded a contract with the court at the end of last month and has not been replaced.
Mr Kassie “finished his contract on the 30th of June because he reached the retirement age and they decided not to renew,” said Reach Sambath, the court’s public affairs chief. “Maybe he wanted to stay but [the personnel department] would not renew.”
Though Mr Kassie’s hiring through competitive recruitment was announced by the court in May of last year, his departure was not.
Despite the successful completion of the first trial, the task of managing victim participation at the Khmer Rouge tribunal remains burdensome: Some 8,000 ordinary Cambodians are hoping to participate in the trials of senior regime leaders expected next year.
Many of those people may be told in the coming months that their insufficient evidence for their claims of suffering. Twenty-four civil party applicants were left devastated on Monday as the court ruled at the very last minute that they had been excluded for lack of evidence. Court procedures have been altered to prevent a recurrence of this.
The task of communicating with victims, explaining their rights and obligations and the upset that may result from the court process, could scarcely seem more urgent.
But Kim Mengkhy, a civil party lawyer who represented 28 Khmer Rouge victims in the Duch case, said that Mr Kassie’s departure had already had “a critical impact on communications,” especially for civil party applicants in the court’s second case.
“It is really important to have support from the Outreach Unit to help victims and their lawyers in communicating with the tribunal,” Mr Mengkhy said.
“It is important to have a new nominee for the Outreach Unit to work closely with victims before the judges decide to exclude civil parties for Case 002.”
“We have already faced difficulties with legal procedure and difficulties with funding, but with his departure we will have a third difficulty: dealing with the administrative system.”
Chum Mey, a survivor of S-21 prison and a civil party, called Mr Kassie’s departure “a big regret.”
Mr Kassie said yesterday he had wanted to stay on, but said Tony Kranh, the court’s acting director of administration, had “not appreciated” his work.
“I did not resign. I was put out to retirement,” Mr Kassie said.
“We tried our best to make the victims’ participation more meaningful in terms of their active participation. They had legal representation, they had the opportunity to communicate with their lawyers, their lawyers could easily communicate with them,” he said.
“I’m not sure whether this way is appreciated by the court management people, namely Mr Tony,” Mr Kassie said.
Mr Kranh said yesterday that he was reluctant to discuss what he considered minor matters of administration but reiterated that Mr Kassie had reached retirement age.
“There are contracts that are not renewed. There are retirements,” he said. “He left. He was at retirement age. His contract was not renewed.”
He said the court should be judged on the quality of services provided and that victim participation was one of the cornerstones of a successful tribunal.
“Do not believe that the management isn’t paying full attention to this aspect, victim participation,” he said, declining to answer directly when asked if Mr Kassie would be replaced or if his position would be discontinued.
“Whether in this form or in another form, this function will be fulfilled,” said Mr Kranh.
Mr Kassie also said yesterday that he was perplexed that he was asked to leave at age 65, because he was recruited for the position when he was 64. He said he believed the Cambodian side of the court relied on the government’s official retirement age of 60.
Mr Sambath, the court spokesman, said he could not recall the retirement age in effect at the court, but he said Mr Kassie had reached it.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said that problems within the victims support section had been apparent for some time, with two high-profile chiefs resigning in the space of little more than a year. Ms Jarvis replaced Keat Bophal in May 2009 after Ms Bophal abruptly resigned for undisclosed reasons.
“Keat Bophal resigned, Helen resigned, so they’re aware that it’s not working the way it should be…. With experience, I hope they can improve.”
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison and Kuch Naren)