Khmer Rouge Survivors Celebrate Legal Victory as Case 002 Begins in Cambodia

On June 27, 2011, the proceedings in Case 002 against four senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge—one of the most complex human rights trials since Nuremberg—commenced before the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).  The trial began just as many Khmer Rouge survivors are receiving the news that they have been accepted as Civil Parties to Case 002.  On Friday, June 24, the ECCC announced that over 1,700 applicants who had previously been rejected as Civil Parties would be accepted [PDF, 17.3 MB], bringing the total number of Civil Parties to 3850.  Of these, about one dozen are represented by CJA, who filed appeals on their behalf last fall. 

The news came as a welcome surprise to CJA client, Henry Chhon, who said, “I am a victim of the Khmer Rouge and the communist regime.  I want to find out from the defendants, why did the Khmer Rouge come and hurt their own people?”  Now that Mr. Chhon has been accepted as a Civil Party, he can demand answers to these questions.

The trial begins amidst controversy and suspicion that the Court will not fulfill its mandate of bringing to trial those most responsible for the human rights abuses of the Khmer Rouge, but will instead close at the end of Case 002, having tried only five people.  The International Prosecutor of the ECCC filed a request to investigate five additional defendants who would be tried in subsequent cases (referred to as Case 003 and 004) before the Court.  However, the ECCC’s investigating judges abruptly closed the investigation of Case 003 without conducting a thorough field investigation.  It is rumored that the investigating judges will likewise close Case 004 in the coming weeks.  In an effort to pressure the Court to remain open and fulfill its mandate, CJA and its partner organization, the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia (ASRIC) filed 8 civil party applications for Case 003 and intends to file more applications for the fourth case. 

CJA client Saray Yourn, a Civil Party in Case 002, explained that not only did he look forward to participating in Case 002, but he intends to file another application for Case 004.  He explains, “I am happy to be in Case 002 so I can find out why so many people died and why they were left hungry.  But I want the Court to stay open for Case 003 and 004.  We want the Court to tell us the truth and not play games with the people.”

The first order of business for the Court is to conduct initial hearings this week.  The hearings are designed to address (1) preliminary objections by the four defendants:  Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Khieu Samphan; (2) reparations to be awarded to the Civil Parties if the defendants are found guilty; and (3) the voluminous witness lists presented by the parties, which, in total, include more than 1000 witnesses.  CJA staff attorney Nushin Sarkarati will be in court to argue on behalf of the civil parties’ proposed witnesses and to support the request for reparations.  “Cambodian survivors have waited over thirty years for justice and eagerly await the start of this high profile case.  These hearings will hopefully lay out a clear course for the complicated facts in Case 002 and provide a measure of efficiency for this potentially lengthy trial.”