Category Archives: Khmer Rouge Tribunal

More on the Khmer Rouge Tribunal…

The American Society of International Law has published an interesting ASIL Insight that focuses on disputes between national and international prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal. International prosecutors want to open investigations into Khmer Rouge leaders beyond the original five already in the dock, while national prosecutors argue it would fall outside the KRT’s jurisdiction (and possibly lead to civil strife). Needless to say, both must agree in order for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to function effectively. Unfortunately, the article concludes that the entire process might become (or appear) compromised as prosecutors make decisions based on the political interests of their stakeholders rather than the law. This would diminish its credibility severely among the Cambodian people, as well as donors (the KRT’s budget is already pitiful compared to other international tribunals).

You can download the entire article here.

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Will the Rule of Law Bring Back the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia?

Hun Sen has periodically warned the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) risks reigniting reopening old wounds if it expands its jurisdiction beyond the five Khmer Rouge leaders already on the docket.* According to The Straits Times, he claimed:

I am not interfering with the court. But it is not the court that stopped the war. Be careful – the court will create war, causing division of society again,’ Hun Sen said in a speech in the capital Phnom Penh.

Obviously, this claim is self-serving, as many suspect Hun Sen fears the KRT could upset his allies, both among the ruling elite, local villages, and abroad. However, does he have a point? Could international criminal courts actually prevent political and societal reconciliation? 

I’ve always been a bit disturbed by the fact that  it seemed to be Western lawyers, rather than Cambodians themselves, who really demanded justice for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. Despite the KRT’s many problems, there probably isn’t much evidence to support the claim that post-conflict justice might actually reopen old wounds. Many international criminal courts actually face the opposite problem. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda suffers from local credibility problems, especially because most Rwandans do not have TV or radio and cannot follow court proceedings (the ICTR is located in Arusha, Tanzania). The International Criminal Court has run into its own credibility problems, such as being unable to enforce an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Bashir. 
Certainly, the Cambodian people do not support impunity – in fact, if the data in this poll are still accurate, upwards of 97% of Cambodians support trials against Khmer Rouge leaders (I apologize, I couldn’t find more recent polls). However, the KRT seems destined to suffer its own credibility problems. First of all, the delay – it is now over 30 years since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. Second, the KRT’s hybrid structure means that Western and Cambodian prosecutors and judges must agree on whether to initiate more prosecutions against other Khmer Rouge leaders – and very often they haven’t agreed. Public participation also seems low. Of the 17,000 victims at Duch’s S-21, only 169 civil parties have come forward to the prosecution. It seems the real fear isn’t, as Hun Sen claims, renewed civil war, but rather the gnawing sense that the KRT will not satisfy public demands for justice.
* Prison Chief Kaing Guek Eav (a.k.a. Duch), whose trial concluded last week, as well as propagandist Nuon Chean, former president Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary, and his wife, former minister of social afairs Ieng Thirith.

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