The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

Overview of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

In 1997, the Cambodian government requested  United Nations (UN) assistance in establishing a trial to prosecute the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. In 2001, the Cambodian National Assembly passed a law creating a court to try serious crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime 1975-1979: the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed during the Period of Democratic Kampuchea. An agreement with the UN was ultimately reached in June 2003 detailing how the international community would assist and participate in the
Extraordinary Chambers.

A ‘hybrid’ national-international tribunal, the ECCC features both Cambodian staff and judges together with foreign personnel. The international element was included to assist Cambodia’s legal system in handling these cases, which involve crimes of international nature.

Structure of the ECCC

The hybrid nature of the ECCC is reflected in both the composition of its personnel and the organizational structure. The ECCC is composed of both Cambodian and international staff (judges, co-prosecutors, lawyers, etc.) to combine the local knowledge of the Cambodian justice system with the experience of international partners in prosecuting international crimes.  The ECCC has a rather complex organizational structure which is not unusual for international tribunals.

The ECCC is comprised of three Judicial Chambers (Pre-Trial, Trial and Supreme Court), two Judicial Offices (Co-Investigating Judges and Co-Prosecutors) and one Administration Office which has several sections including Defence and Victim Support Sections.

•    Judicial Chambers: The Pre-Trial Chamber deals with appeals in the pre-trial phase of proceedings; the Trial Chamber hears the evidence, considers different sides of the case, makes decisions, and delivers written judgments; and the Supreme Chamber is responsible for the appeals from the trial phase.

•    The Office of the Co-Investigating Judges plays a specific role in the ECCC as it has to determine whether the facts set out by the Co-Prosecutors constitute a crime within the jurisdiction of the ECCC and whether the charged person is to be indicted and sent to trial before the Trial Chamber. The Co-Investigating Judges are responsible for collecting and filing all the case material that will constitute the basis for the proceedings before the Trial Chamber.

•    The Office of the Co-Prosecutors is responsible for an independent investigation and prosecution of the crimes under the jurisdiction of the ECCC.

•    The main role of the Defense Support Section (DSS) is to ensure fair trials through effective representation of the accused. The DSS is responsible for providing the accused with a list of lawyers who can defend them and for giving legal and administrative support to the assigned lawyers.

•     The Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyers (CPL) represent the consolidated group of 3, 866 Civil Parties and ensure the effective organization of Civil Party representation during the trial stage and beyond.  The Lead Co-Lawyers work with Civil Party Lawyers in the representation of Civil Parties during the trial, and have the ultimate responsibility to the court for the overall advocacy, strategy and in-court presentation of the interests of the consolidated group of Civil Parties.

•    Victim Support Section (VSS)  plays a key role in the ECCC’s structure, because it is the central contact point between the ECCC and victims or their representatives. The main task of the VSS is to support and assist victims who want to exercise their right to participate in the ECCC’s proceedings as Complainants or Civil Parties. The VSS is also responsible for informing victims about their rights and assisting them in finding suitable legal representation and/or Victims Associations. The VSS also provides legal and administrative support to the Civil Party lawyers.