In January 2010, when judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal finished investigating the court’s second case, more than 2,000 victims of the Pol Pot regime had already applied to participate in the trial and seek reparations.
Today, after the close of a 20-month investigation into Case 003, the number of civil party applicants stands at just two, with 11 days left for victims to apply.
The court’s apparent lack of interest in reaching out to victims has only fueled the widespread perception that the court as a whole is operating as though cases 003 and 004, which are fiercely opposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen, are headed for dismissal, as is reportedly planned.
Last year, the court mounted a publicity campaign to maximize the number of civil party applicants, even extending the business hours for its victims unit.
But now, because investigating judges have released no information on the scope or nature of cases 003 and 004, and the court’s Victim Support Section has conducted no outreach efforts, broad swaths of the Cambodian population could be eligible to join as civil parties but will be denied an opportunity to seek reparations and justice.
The suspects in case 003, military leaders Sou Met and Meas Muth, and in case 004 have never been publicly identified by the court. Judges have also refused to reveal what crime scenes and factual situations they are charged with investigating–a major stumbling block for prospective civil parties who must prove they suffered due to a crime being examined.
“Prospective civil parties have…not been given any indication of the scope of the investigation, nor direction in filing complaints that could aid in the prosecution of suspects,” the Open Society Justice Initiative said in a statement yesterday.
But Reach Sambath, the court’s public affairs chief, said no outreach efforts could be initiated without a “recommendation and instruction or order from the judges.”
“Without anything you cannot just make noise, you know?” he said.
Im Sophea, outreach coordinator at the Victim Support Section, confirmed this week that the section was conducting outreach only for victims involved in the Case 002, in which four senior Khmer Rouge leaders are to stand trial this year.
“I haven’t got any instructions to do any advocacy or campaign work for cases 003 or 004,” he said. “There is no action to do that. I won’t say I’m not doing it but I will say I am only now doing Case 002.”
Although the victims office has processed the two applications it has received–those of human rights worker Theary Seng and of Rob Hamill–the court has not reached out to other victims to discuss the cases.
Mr Hamill filed suit last month seeking reparations against revolutionary military commanders Meas Muth and Sou Met, the two charged in Case 003. Mr Hamill is also a civil party in cases 001 and 002, seeking reparations for the murder of his brother at Tuol Sleng.
His lawyer, Lyma Nguyen, says she sees a stark difference in how he has been treated as an applicant in the third case.
“In Case 002, Rob was actually approached by the victims unit…and asked whether he wanted to have his Case 001 application transferred to Case 002 (in effect, to apply as a civil party in Case 002),” she wrote in an e-mail. “In Case 003, there has been no information about the case file and Rob’s civil party application was initiated on information he had gathered on his own.”
After Mr Hamill filed his application, the victim’s office confirmed its receipt and issued him a registration number but offered him no other assistance, Ms Nguyen added.
Silke Studzinsky, a lawyer representing several hundred victims, said that although her clients were “worried and very interested” in the progress of the third and fourth cases, with some wondering if they were eligible to become civil parties, her ability to help them had been limited.
“As far as I know there was no information provided [by the court] on how to deal with cases 003 and 004,” she said. “There was nothing.”
When Ms Seng applied as a civil party in early April, the court lambasted her action as “reckless” for speculating about the identity of unnamed suspects. She was nevertheless correct in naming Sou Met and Meas Muth.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal is the first tribunal applying international law to allow victims to become civil parties with procedural rights and has made victim participation a cornerstone of its legacy.
But in January, when the court lowered its planned spending for this year, several jobs at the victims office were eliminated. These included the position of deputy head, which had been vacant since October, the national outreach planning officer, the section’s only help-line operator, four out of eight outreach assistants and two administrative assistants.
The reorganization saved a total of $259,800. The court also said it had saved “$454,200 in training and meetings due to a reduction in the number of VSS trainings and outreach meetings, as well as general ECCC training activities not undertaken in 2010 as planned.”
Ms Nguyen, the civil party lawyer, said the tribunal needed seriously to reexamine how it was dealing with victims in its second two cases.
“The court should expect that there is public interest in cases 003 and 004, and even though investigations are by their very nature confidential, there should be some efforts to at least inform and advise victims as to what they should expect in those case files,” she said.
“The ECCC is, after all, the first internationalized tribunal which creates a substantive role for victims as civil parties, and one might expect that the ECCC would therefore show some leadership on the international stage.”