Craig Etcheson on the Legacies of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

“The question of how to stabilize and rebuild a society that had been at war with itself for thirty years is extraordinarily complex and delicate.”

After 15 years, $300 million, and convictions against three former leaders, Cambodia’s United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), is finally nearing its end.

Few non-Cambodians have played a more prominent role in the push for justice and accountability in Cambodia than Craig Etcheson. As an academic in the 1980s, he served as the head of the Washington-based Committee to Oppose the Return of the Khmer Rouge, and later helped document the country’s dozens of “killing fields.” He then served as chief of investigations for the office of the prosecution at the ECCC from 2006 to 2012. Etcheson is also the author of several books on Cambodia, including, most recently, “Extraordinary Justice: Law, Politics, and the Khmer Rouge Tribunals” (Columbia University Press, 2019).

Etcheson, currently a visiting scientist at Harvard University’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health, spoke with The Diplomat about the politically complex origin of the court, the challenge of reconciling law and politics in international justice, and the possible legacies of the trials in Cambodia.

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