International Judicial Monitor
Published by the American Society of International Law and the International Judicial Academy
December 2006, Volume 1, Issue 5

International Tribunal Spotlight:
Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Special Tribunal for CambodiaIntroduction

During the nearly four year reign of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia (1975-1979), almost two million persons, more than one fourth of the population of the country, died by execution, torture, or starvation.

The international community has demanded an accounting for these atrocities over the past 20 years. Finally, on March 17, 2003 the United Nations reached an agreement with the Cambodian government to create an international criminal tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.  This came about only after five years of negotiations and 24 years after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power.

The official name of the Tribunal is the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia for the Prosecution of Crimes Committed During the Period of Democratic Kampuchea.

The purposes of the Tribunal are (1) to offer justice for victims and survivors by prosecuting “senior leaders and those most responsible” for the mass crimes of the Khmer Rouge; (2) to prevent similar atrocities in the future; and (3) to demonstrate to younger generations what happened during the years of Khmer Rouge rule.

Judges from the United States, Netherlands, Poland, France, Australia and Sri Lanka will serve with 13 Cambodian judges to try the cases. The total number of judges and prosecutors assigned to the Tribunal is 29. King Norodom Sihamoni, himself a victim of Khmer Rouge atrocities, and chair of the Cambodian Supreme Council of Magistracy, picked the judges and prosecutors from among United Nations and Cambodian nominees.

The Accused

Trials of four Khmer Rouge leaders are scheduled to begin in 2007, although no firm date has been set for their beginning. The four senior Khmer  Rouge leaders who will most likely face trial are:

Ieng Sary – KR Foreign Minister

Nuon Chea – Pol Pot’s chief lieutenant

Khieu Samphan – KR head of state

Kung Khek Ieu – Director of a KR interrogation and torture chamber

Another indicted KR official, Chhit Choeum, also known as Ta Mok, a former Army chief nicknamed “The Butcher,” died last summer. Other KR leaders have avoided prosecution due to old age or poor health. 

Structure and Composition

Cambodian Court Swearing In Ceremony
The Cambodian Tribunal Court
Swearing In Ceremony

Each trial will be conducted by a panel of judges, which must contain at least one international judge. Cases will be decided by a majority, but the vote of at least one international judge is required for a decision. The maximum penalty that can be given is life imprisonment. The Tribunal has not yet agreed on the difficult task of formulating rules of procedure for the conduct of trials. The Tribunal is also attempting to establish a support office for defense lawyers.

Prosecutors for the Tribunal moved into their offices on July 10 of this year. Judges took an oath of office on July 3, 2006. The Prosecutor’s office has already accumulated detailed records of Khmer Rouge atrocities. Veteran Canadian lawyer and international prosecutor Robert Petit will serve as chief co-prosecutor. He has experience in the international criminal tribunals for Rwanda, East Timor, Kosovo, and Sierra Leone.

The Tribunal, during the peak of its work, which is limited to three years, is expected to employ a staff of 200 Cambodians, and 100 foreigners designated by the United Nations.

The trials will be held in a former military headquarters building in the outskirts of Phnom Penh. The building is near one of the killing fields used by the Khmer Rouge where thousands of bodies are buried.


Cambodian Tribunal Court
The Cambodian Tribunal Court
Located near the killing fields

The total three year budget for the Tribunal is an estimated $56.3 million.  Voluntary contributions from United Nations members will make up $43 million.  Thirteen members of the United Nations have already pledged a total of $38.5 million for Tribunal operations. The thirteen UN members are Japan, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Luxembourg, Austria, Sweden, UK, Norway and Korea. Japan leads all contributors with a contribution of $21.6 million. Cambodia is scheduled to contribute $13.3 million under the agreement with the United Nations.

For More Information

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia

Open Society Justice Imitative

Cambodian Genocide Program

International Center for Transitional Justice

Crimes of War Project

(Note: some information for this article was obtained from materials put together by the Global Policy Forum).

James G. Apple, Co-Editor, International Judicial Monitor and President, International Judicial Academy

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© 2006 – The American Society of International Law and International Judicial Academy.

Editors: James G. Apple, Andrew Solomon and Maria Staunton.
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