Posted Thursday, 25 May 2006
More people in
Unexpectedly, quietly and slowly, Dame Silvia is coming into the lives of the Cambodian people, the kingdom's robust media and its fractious politics, with her appointment as one of the international judges for the forthcoming Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
Snippets in the media and the chat lines speak highly of her distinguished career as a lawyer, a jurist and a High Court judge, in fact the first woman to be appointed to that high post in
There are 12 other international judges and prosecutors from Asia, Europe and North America, all nominated by the United Nations, about which, also, very little is known in Cambodia.
There is, therefore, increasing curiosity and a resulting awareness about the international judges for the first-ever trial of this nature in
Still, it is a remarkable achievement that the proposed tribunal has finally reached this far from its genesis in 1997 when the then Co-Prime Ministers Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Samdech Hun Sen wrote to the UN Secretary-General for assistance in establishing a trial to bring to justice the perpetrators of crimes committed during the ultra-Maoist Pol Pot regime.
What is probably long forgotten is that the prime reason for seeking UN assistance was not merely because the crimes had an international dimension or relevance, but more so because of the explicit admission that the Cambodian judiciary neither had the expertise nor the resources to conduct such a complex trial.
Some background is useful for perspective. Under the Khmer Rouge most of the judiciary either died or were killed, as were an estimated 1.7 million other Cambodians. The more fortunate escaped the clutches of the regime and resettled in third countries. The result was that when the Khmer Rouge was finally ousted from
Invariably trusted community elders and senior party officials were chosen by the new government's politburo to carry out primary judicial functions though, undoubtedly in the earlier years, the main objective of the emerging judiciary was to ensure the social stability of the fledgling regime.
This, then, was how the present day Cambodian judiciary began some 27 years ago. In the interim, students were sent overseas for training, particularly to
Detractors point out that the Cambodian judiciary is not among the more respected institutions in the country. This unfortunately is so. However, there are those who counter that it is still grossly unfair to paint the whole institution with one broad brush because of a few. Where the tribunal is concerned, given its very structure and transparency, the Cambodian judges will invariably come under greater scrutiny and will be benchmarked against the best of international judges. The hope is that the total experience will contribute to, and accelerate the maturity of, the Cambodian judiciary.
The tribunal comes with a long name - Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea. It is popularly known by the shorter name, "Extraordinary Chamber"s or "EC".
The EC will have the power to try suspects charged with committing crimes under both Cambodian and international laws, i.e., genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in addition to murder, torture and religious persecution.
The EC will have two chambers, the first being the Trial Court, made up of three Cambodian and two international judges. For a decision to be reached the principle of a “super majority” will apply; i.e., four out of the five judges must support the decision: this means that every decision must have both Cambodian and international support.
The other chamber, the Supreme Court - an appeals chamber - will comprise four Cambodian and three international judges and will require five judges to uphold an appeal decision.
If a super majority decision cannot be arrived at in either of the courts, the accused is released as his guilt would not have been established. If the accused is found guilty, the maximum sentence will be life imprisonment. The accused will escape the gallows as
The courts will only try crimes committed between April 17, 1975 and January 6, 1979, all of three years, eight months and 20 days. Only those "most responsible for serious crimes" will be tried: envisaged to be less than ten. The actual trials are expected to begin early next year although prosecuting judges are expected to start work from the middle of this year.