The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, otherwise known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, is confronted to a strategic, legal and political challenge: to try and hold more trials, or to close shop. The issue has divided the court from within, and it divides observers too. Closing the court down, say Sophal Ear, a civil party, and attorneys Nushin Sarkarati and Daniel McLaughlin, of the Center for Justice and Accountability, would undermine its judicial independence and tarnish its legacy and impact.
Four decades ago, the Khmer Rouge killed an estimated 1.7 million people in Cambodia. Late last month two of its highest-ranking leaders, Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, were found guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. The following day, Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sar Kheng, declared that the tribunal which oversaw these historic convictions, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), had completed its work and should abandon its remaining cases. As a victim and now plaintiff before the ECCC who fled Cambodia at age 10, and lawyers who have been presenting cases at the ECCC for eight years, we believe this would be a grave mistake.
There are currently three final cases still pending before the ECCC, commonly known as Cases 003, 004 and 004/2. These cases target notable former military commanders and zone level leaders charged with implementing Khmer Rouge policies in key provinces where serious crimes occurred. Each case is integral to understanding how the execution of Khmer Rouge policies at the regional and local levels led to the mass atrocities and cultural devastation now synonymous with the regime. These cases also represent a commitment to upholding the rule of law in the face of political pressures.