The initial hearing towards the first historical trial of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia

17/02/2009
Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights and its member organisations in Cambodia, the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC) and the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), welcome the initial hearing starting today in the case of KAING Guek Eav alias ‘Duch’. This hearing represents the first public stage leading to the trial of the former Khmer Rouge leaders by the Extraordinary Chambes in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

The initial hearing will consider applications filed by victims seeking to be admitted as civil parties, as well as protective measures to ensure their safety. It will also consider any preliminary legal and procedural issues that might have an impact on the substantial aspects of the trial, and it will finalise the scheduling of witnesses and experts to be heard during the trial. The date of the trial should be decided upon following this initial hearing.

"Today’s hearing is crucial as it will determine how the trial againt the first former Khmer Rouge will be conducted, as well as how victims and witnesses will participate in the proceedings and be granted protective measures. It is a landmark for all the victims of the former Khmer Rouge, who have waited for 30 years to see justice done", declared Souhayr Belhassen, president of FIDH.

This hearing is particularly important as it should determine the modalities for the participation of victims, who, for the first time in the history of international justice, have the right to participate in criminal proceedings as "civil parties". According the the Victims Unit of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, 94 civil party applications had been received in this case, as of 2 February 2009. Victims will be represented in Court by lawyers.

Accessing justice is not easy for victims in Cambodia. The decision might be difficult to make because participation in trial might affect the relevant victim’s safety. Also, information about victims’ right to apply to participate in proceedings is not properly spread throughout the country. For these reasons, FIDH and ADHOC recommend that the Court take these special circumstances into account to ensure active participation by victims. In particular the organisations recommend that the ECCC consider the possibility of accepting civil party applications at a later stage, taking into account provisions in Cambodian legislation.

"Victims should not be penalized for late applications, given the clear constraints of information and counselling available in relation to ECCC proceedings. They should not be forced to be spectators to a process that they wish to engage in," said Tung Saray, President of ADHOC.

Both organisations also support the request which was filed by victims’ lawyers last week, asking for the opening of an investigation into forced marriage acts and Duch’s alleged responsibility in that regard.

FIDH and ADHOC also express concerns about allegations of corruption and political interference with the ECCC, over the last three years of existence.

"Allegations of corruption and political interference should be scrutinously investigated by the UN and the communauty of donors. Otherwise, the ECCC credibilty would be largely undermined", said Souhayr Belhassen.

Along that line, both organisations support the request filed by the International co-Prosecutor, Robert Petit, on 1 December 2008, to open new judicial investigations against additional suspects. This request has been opposed by the national prosecutor and judges still have to be rule upon this disagreement.

FIDH will launch its report on the ECCC on the occasion of the opening of Duch’s trial.

Background

Duch is accused, as Deputy or Secreary of S21, of having planned, instigated, ordered, committed or aided and abetted (by virtue of his responsibility in the chain of command) crimes against humanity, graves breaches of the Gevena Conventions of 1949 and violations of the 1956 Cambodian Criminal Code. Crimes prosecuted are alleged to have been committed by Duch in connection to S-21 Security Office (Toul Sleng), S-24 Security Office (Prey Sar), and the Choeung Ek execution site.

A second trial in "case 2", will take place at a later stage against four top leaders of the former regime : NUON CHEA, IENG Sary, IENG Thirith, and KHIEU Samphan.

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