Friday, January 18, 2008

A Judicial Field Trip: Khmer Rouge Tribunal

In an interesting turn of events, particularly for a lawyer schooled in the common law tradition, investigating judges from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) travelled Wednesday to the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin to host a town-hall style meeting. In earlier efforts to interview Pailin residents, both Cambodian and international judges had faced recalcitrance from locals possibly concerned that they might fall under the jurisdiction of the court. Given the tribunal's need for testimony from former Khmer Rouge cadre, the judges decided to hold an informational meeting to explain the limited jurisdiction of the court, which is focused on "those most responsible" for the crimes of the regime. While that phrase has yet to be precisely defined, the court officials reportedly assured lower-ranking cadre that they would not be prosecuted. NGOs have already played an unusually large role in conducting outreach around the Khmer Rouge tribunal, both through field visits to explain the mandate and process of the court and by bringing both victims and perpetrators to visit the court. But it is startling to see the judges get in on the game; while investigating judges have played a role in criminal cases for some time in continental Europe, their use is diminishing due to concerns about effectiveness and impartiality. The ECCC is the only international criminal tribunal to deploy investigating judges. As a recent article argues, perhaps the investigatory role is appropriate in international criminal law cases, where courts face complex factual and legal scenarios, counterproductive adversariality between the prosecution and the defense, accusations of political bias, and the participation of victims throughout the process. But is outreach, including promises about the limits of prosecution, an appropriate part of that role? (photo credit AFP)

2 comments:

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

Re: "NGOs have already played an unusually large role in conducting outreach around the Khmer Rouge tribunal, both through field visits to explain the mandate and process of the court and by bringing both victims and perpetrators to visit the court."

How did you arrive at that conclusion? Is there some literature you might direct me toward in this regard? I'm just curious, as I was under the impression (not based on any fieldwork or expertise on my part, mind you) that NGOs routinely play a large role in conducting outreach of this sort, as part of their ongoing commitment to the Rome Statute, the ICC, etc.

Are you skeptical or critical of the role of NGOs in this respect? If so, why?

And while I can't answer the question at the end of your post, thank you for raising it, as it is indeed an important one.

Jaya Ramji-Nogales said...

Thanks for your query. I have not found any literature on outreach around international criminal tribunals, and would welcome any suggestions from other readers. My comparison was drawn from the ad hoc tribunals (ICTY/ICTR) as well as the Sierra Leone and East Timor tribunals; I was not referring to the ICC, which I see as a distinct category because of its permanent nature. My understanding is that outreach was overlooked early on and taken up late by the court at the ICTY and ICTR, largely handled by the court in Sierra Leone, and that while NGOs did play some role in East Timor, it was not as large a role as the Cambodian NGOs have played. Given how long the ECCC has been in the making, it perhaps makes sense that Cambodian NGOs have been more involved in outreach, although part of the explanation is the limited funding for outreach by the ECCC itself. Here's a very short briefing paper from Human Rights First, but like you, I would love to see a more in-depth study: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/international_justice/icc/outreach_brief_paper011404.pdf.