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[Statement] Historic first conviction in the ECCC: Further efforts required for the realization of justice

On 26 July 2010, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) passed down its judgment for the first case it has examined, Case 001. The tribunal found that the accused Kaing Guek Eav (alias Duch, 67), a former chief of Tuol Sleng detention center, was guilty of committing crimes against humanity (among other crimes), and sentenced him to 35 years imprisonment. In addition, the tribunal decided to publish statements of apology that the accused made on the ECCC website.

The ECCC was established and began to operate in 2006 for the purpose of trying senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those who were most responsible for committing mass killings, torture, and other grave human rights violations during the regime of Pol Pot from April 1975 to January 1979. Human Rights Now (HRN), a Tokyo-based human rights organization, recognizes that in almost the 30 years that have passed since the human rights violations were committed, the ECCC's first judgment is an important first step in overcoming the history of impunity, pursuing responsibility for human rights abuses that have been committed in Cambodia, and realizing justice for victims of the regime.

HRN would like to acknowledge that the tribunal continues to address problems it faced at the outset and that these should continue to engage with these challenges. However, HRN recognizes that the on-site process of, and the participation of many victims in the hybrid tribunal, which is comprised of both local Cambodian and supporting UN staff, is an historical achievement. Every Cambodian citizen should play an active role in the peace building process, and the tribunal proceedings, which are held at the site where human rights violations occurred and which were carried out with the participation of victims, have been an important contribution to that process. Additionally, it holds significance in that it breaks new ground in international criminal procedure for trials of grave human rights violations. HRN believes that international community should recognize the importance of holding the tribunal in Cambodia to the peace building process.

However, HRN notes that the reparation measures ordered by the ECCC were limited to two measures. Firstly, the ECCC decided to compile all statements of apology and acknowledgments of responsibility made by the accused during the course of the trial, and this compilation will be posted onto the ECCC website after the judgment becomes final. Secondly, the tribunal made a declaration that Civil Parties, who participated in the proceedings, had suffered harm as a direct consequence of the crimes for which the accused was convicted. HRN hopes that the ECCC's appeal mechanism will duly examine whether or not these reparation measures were adequate under the rules of the ECCC, given the nature of the damage suffered by victims. HRN further hopes that that the ECCC will grant other types of reparation measures based on the specific facts of each case in future trials.

Since the establishment of the tribunal in 2006, HRN has monitored the tribunal's operation focusing on the issue of victims, and has called on the tribunal to be a place where justice for victims can be achieved. To that end, HRN has made policy recommendations for the court. In particular, HRN has made recommendations calling on the participation system of victims as parties to court proceedings, and has worked towards the realization of those recommendations. As a result, the ECCC introduced a Civil Party system, and victims as Civil Parties participated in Case 001. Further, HRN released a report and suggestions to address practical issues related to mass victims litigation, so as to make victims' participation in the proceedings effective. HRN welcomes the current situation in which victims, who feared that human rights violations would be committed again, are breaking the many years of silence and starting to speak of their suffering. This is an extremely important process for building peace in Cambodian society.

Even so, the trials of senior leaders in the Khmer Rouge Regime have not yet begun, even though they are alleged to bear the most responsibility for the commission of numerous human rights violations during the regime. In July 2007, the Co-Investigating Judges started judicial investigations of Case 002 involving four senior leaders: Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirith. However, their trials have not yet commenced. Considering the long periods of detention and the old age of the four accuseds, the delay of Case 002 is not acceptable. Cases 003 and 004 are still in the initial stages of judicial investigation.

HRN would like to emphasize that the purposes of the ECCC, namely, officially bringing to light the systematic human rights violations, realization of justice for victims, bringing an end to impunity, and preventing the re-occurence of human rights violations in the future, will not be realized unless those who were most responsible for the commission of the violations are indicted and held accountable by judicial decisions.

HRN calls on all actors involved with the ECCC to put all their efforts into ensuring that those who bear the most responsibility for the abuses are indicted and tried without delay.

HRN urges the international community, in particular major donor countries such as Japan, to contribute to establishing the rule of law in Cambodian society by supporting expeditious trial procedures and enhancing the operational efficiency of the tribunal. The international community must continue to monitor the ECCC's operation to ensure preventing corruption, and should express objection to any political intervention into the court's procedures so as not to lead to the delay.

The ECCC has opened the door for victims to claim moral and collective reparation, and HRN calls on the international community to support in more concrete ways, the realization and implementation of those measures of reparation.