Post-Conflict Justice in Cambodia: The Legacy of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Post-Conflict Justice in Cambodia: The Legacy of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Daniel Heilmann (Independent Researcher, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9675-4.ch010
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This paper looks at the role that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia play in the context of post-conflict justice in Cambodia. The first trial against one of the main perpetrators was completed in 2010; the first phase of the second case against two high-ranking leaders of the Khmer Rouge has been completed in 2014. This study includes an analysis of how the Tribunal has influenced the legal and political culture in Cambodia, and the ways in which the work of the Tribunal has changed the perception of common people concerning the Khmer Rouge period. The paper also looks at the proceedings before the Tribunal and discusses whether the Tribunal has, in the eyes of all relevant stakeholders, lived up to expectations. The interaction between the Cambodian government and the international community is crucial in this context. Finally, the Tribunal's lasting legacy is scrutinized in regard to its effect on the Cambodian legal system and in regard to the ECCC's outreach, education and documentation activities.
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Cambodia had been a French protectorate since 1863 and King Norodom Sihanouk declared Cambodian independence in 1945 during Japanese occupation (at the request of the Japanese occupiers). However, the French were able to reimpose their colonial administration in October 1945. Cambodia finally became independent in 1953/54 in the context of the first Indochina War. Independence was followed by a period of Cambodian political non-alignment and neutrality in the 1950s and 1960s (for a detailed account of the Cambodian history after independence see Kamm, 2002). King Norodom Sihanouk, who had abdicated in 1955 in favor of his father, became Head of State again in 1960. His policy successfully maneuvered Cambodia through the Cold War, when the superpowers fiercely fought over influence in the region. But ultimately Cambodia could not avoid being dragged into the Vietnam War. Genuine neutrality became impossible under pressure from various stakeholders, and, in 1965, Sihanouk made a pact with North Vietnam and allowed Chinese military supplies to reach North Vietnam via Cambodian territory. Increasingly, Cambodia’s eastern provinces were serving as bases for the Viet Cong. Hence, the United States began a bombing campaign to weaken Vietnamese logistical lines running through Cambodia in 1969. Sihanouk feared that the Vietnamese conflict would spill over into Cambodia and therefore opposed the U.S. bombing campaign. At the same time, domestic opposition to Sihanouk grew (already since 1964 the government faced an underground insurgent movement - the Khmer Rouge).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Khmer Rouge: A Cambodian Communist movement that was active as a guerrilla force from the 1960s to the 1990s and held power under the leadership of Pol Pot from 1975 to 1979.

Crimes Against Humanity: Crimes against humanity are certain acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population. Unlike war crimes, crimes against humanity can be committed during peace or war. They are not isolated or sporadic events, but are part either of a government policy (although the perpetrators need not identify themselves with this policy) or of a wide practice of atrocities tolerated or condoned by a government or a de facto authority.

Genocide: Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.

Transitional Justice: Transitional justice refers to the set of judicial and non-judicial measures which are implemented in order to redress the legacy of massive human rights abuses. These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations programs, and various kinds of institutional reforms.

Hybrid Court: Hybrid Courts usually apply a mix of national and international law (both procedural and substantial and feature a blend of international and national elements, in particular international and national judges and staff.

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