See More on Facebook

Opinion, Politics

Has the Khmer Rouge tribunal lived up to expectations

Quinn Libson examines whether the expensive and long lasting tribunal has been worth the money.


Written by

Updated: November 19, 2018

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, also known as the Khmer Rouge tribunal, delivered a historic verdict on Friday. The court has found two former high-ranking Khmer Rouge cadres guilty of genocide against Cambodia’s Cham Muslim minority and ethnic Vietnamese.

The two, Nuon Chea, 92, and Khieu Samphan, 87, are the last two surviving senior members of the brutal group that ruled Cambodia in the 1970s.

Both men are already serving life sentences related to previous tribunal verdicts.

When this case began, it initially included four Khmer Rouge senior officials. Two of the co-defendants died of old age before the trial could be completed. It is possible that this is the last case the tribunal will ever hear. It has thus far only convicted three individuals at a cost of more than US$300 million in its 12-year run.

In an editorial piece for The Phnom Penh Post from 2000, six years before the court’s work began, prominent Cambodians, from Dr. Kek Galabru, one of Cambodia’s foremost human rights defenders, to Kem Sokha, the former head of the Cambodia National Rescue Party who was formerly imprisoned by now sits under a sort of house arrest, raised crucial questions about how a Khmer Rouge tribunal would be handled.

Kek demanded that the will of the Cambodian people be taken into account: “If the tribunal is a “gift” to the Cambodian people, why not ask the Cambodian people if they want a national or international tribunal? No one has asked the people!” she wrote at the time.

Sokha made the argument that, when it came to a Khmer Rouge tribunal, Cambodia’s entire democratic future hung in the balance:

“Sustainable national reconciliation cannot happen in Cambodia if the justice for its people is not ensured,” Sokha wrote, adding “No rights no democracy, no democracy no justice, no justice no national reconciliation.”

And Sok Sam Oeun, founder of the Cambodian Defenders’ Project had this to say about the goals for the court:

“First, to provide justice to Cambodian people who are victims of this regime; second, to heal Cambodian society and end nightmares of Cambodian victims; third, to find the truth, so that Cambodians and the rest of the world can know why 1.7 million people died; and finally, I hope that this tribunal can serve as a model to show Cambodian people what the principles of a fair trial are.”

Although the verdict today marks a landmark moment in the country’s post-Khmer Rouge history, it would be hard argue that the court has lived up to these incredibly lofty expectations.

Throughout its 12 years, the tribunal has been plagued by controversy, budget woes and a sense among the public that what has been done has been too little and far too late.

Money troubles

If the court has had one consistent identifiable struggle throughout its history, it’s funding.

Funding shortages have precipitated labor disagreements at the court—a translation department that has been severely understaffed, Cambodian workers going unpaid for months at a time, and resulting in several strikes by national employees.

And, in 2017, an investigation by The Phnom Penh Post revealed that the court was considering abandoning legal action against several former Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide at least in part due to lack of funding to move the cases forward.

The court’s legacy

As Sok Sam Oeun pointed out before the court even began the tribunal process, one of the unstated goals of the whole project was that the ECCC might serve as a sort of model after which the Cambodian justice system might be rebuilt.

Those that held that hope are likely to be disappointed with the current state of Cambodia’s courts, which have been used as another weapon in the ruling party’s arsenal to be wielded against the opposition, activists and critics.

In 2017, the CNRP, the country’s only viable opposition party was dissolved by the Supreme Court ahead of 2018’s national elections. And starting in the summer of 2017, the world witnessed the saga of filmmaker James Ricketson, in which the Australian national was arrested for flying a drone at a CNRP rally, put through a trial for espionage based on zero evidence, and convicted to six years in prison. He received a royal pardon a month later.

40 years later

Another chief complaint against the court has been its glacial pace. Many victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge worried they wouldn’t live to see this verdict.

“Justice for the victims is fading little by little,” said Bou Meng in 2013, one of the few survivors of Khmer Rouge’s Toul Sleng prison. “The court must speed up the trial. I deserve some kind of justice while I’m still alive.”

Bou Meng did live to see this day, but countless others did not.

 



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


Quinn Libson
About the Author: Quinn Libson is an Associate Editor at Asia News Network

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Opinion, Politics

Attempts to isolate

Would a re-elected Modi rethink his Pakistan policies. Imran Khan and the military leadership have been expressing a desire for improved relations with India. But India is unlikely to respond anytime soon. And the reasons go beyond its upcoming elections. I recall here a private briefing some of us South Asia hands in Washington got from a close adviser of Narendra Modi soon after he took office as prime minister. Unaware of my identity, he spoke of Pakistan with contempt. “We are going to treat Pakistan as if it were on the other side of a high wall,” he said. Four years on, the adviser is there as is India’s Pakistan policy. How has the policy endured for so long? The search for the answer opens up a vast landscape of policy, politics and ideology in India. Beginning in 1991, India has been on a steady march to foster external relations conducive


By Dawn
February 15, 2019

Opinion, Politics

Press freedom is deteriorating in Asia, elections may offer a reset button

With many countries going to polls this year, the electorate across Asia have a chance to turn around a worrying press freedom situation. Maria Ressa’s arrest on Wednesday was the latest in a string of blatant attacks on the freedom of the press in Southeast Asia. For those that don’t know, Ressa is an award-winning journalist and CEO of the news website the Rappler. Her coverage of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte’s extra-judicial war on drugs has received recognition far beyond her borders and as such, she is seen as a direct threat to the government. The latest arrest, made without prior warning, stemmed from a libel case where the complaint was filed five years after the initial story was published. Numerous press alliances, including the Asia News Network, have condemned the arrest as a blatant attack on freedom of the press. As the Philippines chapter of the Centre for Media Freedom and


By Cod Satrusayang
February 15, 2019

Opinion, Politics

Thai Princess Ubolratana disqualified from election next month

The Election Commission said that members of the royal family should be “above politics” and therefore cannot “hold any political office”. Thailand’s Election Commission has ruled a princess out of next month’s election as uncertainty hangs over the fate of the political party which tried to nominate her as its candidate for prime minister. The name of Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya, King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s elder sister, was left out of a list prime minister nominees released by the commission on Monday (Feb 11). There are 69 names, including that of current Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, on the list. “All membe


By The Straits Times
February 12, 2019

Opinion, Politics

South Korea, US ink provisional defense cost-sharing pact

Getting allies to pay ‘their fair share’ has been a major part of President Trump’s rhetoric. South Korea and the United States signed a provisional agreement Sunday on the sharing of costs to maintain US troops here, with South Korea raising its share by 8.2 percent. Seoul’s negotiator, Chang Won-sam, and his US counterpart, Timothy Betts, met in Seoul to ink the contract. Under the new deal, South Korea will pay about 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) to cover the costs of stationing the 28,500 members of US Armed Forces Korea here throughout 2019. The figure reflects the rate of increase of South Korea’s annual defense budget, according to the Foreign Ministry in Seoul. Last year, South Korea paid about 960 billion won to its ally for the same purpose.


By The Korea Herald
February 11, 2019

Opinion, Politics

Thailand is headed for another political crisis and it can’t stop itself

Prayuth Chan-ocha may be prime minister after elections but what comes after is much harder. On the 16th of May, 1877, French President Patrice de Mac-Mahon dismissed then Prime Minister Jules Simon and named a successor who was rejected by the house of parliament. Mac-Mahon responded by dissolving parliament unilaterally leading to a constitutional crisis which changed the landscape of French politics until well into the 20th century. Thailand may soon experience something similar.


By Cod Satrusayang
February 11, 2019

Opinion, Politics

200 Myanmar Buddhist flee violence into Bangladesh

The refugees were fleeing from clashes between the central government and a separatist group. Around 200 Buddhists from Myanmar’s Chin state crossed into a remote hilly region of Bandarban’s Ruma on Monday following intensified fighting between Myanmar army and rebel group Arakan Army, officials said. Shamsul Alam, upazila nirbahi officer in Ruma upazila, said members of around 40 Myanmar families took shelter in Cheih Kaying Para under Remakree Prangsha union. The fresh arrival of Myanmar nationals takes place at a time when Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the burden of over a million Rohingya Muslims. Of them, some 750,000 have taken shelter in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar since August 2017 following a military crackdown in Rakhine. Some 1,300 Rohingyas recently fled to the camps from India after allegedly facing abuses and threats in the neighbouring country. Several do


By Daily Star
February 8, 2019