Monday, 30 March 2009

First Khmer Rouge Trial finally underway

The international media is full of news reports today announcing that the first Khmer Rouge trial is finally underway. After years of controversy and corruption scandals prosecutors at the ECCC have today started their case against Kaing Guek Eav, known as Comrade Duch. As I have previously blogged here Duch ran the notorious Toul Sleng prison camp in Phnom Penh where many thousands of Cambodians were tortured and executed.

The opening of today's substantive proceedings has been welcomed by all, including the many critics of the ECCC. It is of course hard to be opposed to the prosecution of those alleged to have committed crime against humanity and war crimes. However, even as those welcomes come, the criticisms and general concern about the operation of the ECCC continue. Brittis Edman, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher reflected this tension in the organisations press statement on the hearing: "The Cambodian people will finally see one of the most notorious Khmer Rouge leaders face trial. But many more need to face the court to really deliver justice to the millions of victims of these horrific crimes."

The decision of the ECCC to prosecute only five suspects has been widely criticised. Yet when Robert Petit, the international Co-Prosecutor wanted to send six additional names to the investigating judges for further examination his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang, objected on the grounds that the stability of the country might be affected. No action has since been taken on those six names.

Whilst the Cambodian officials may claim that further prosecutions would not be beneficial to the country, a recent survey carried out by the Documentation Center of Cambodia found in fact that a small majority of Cambodians polled felt that the court should look at further suspects. Overall 56.8% were in favour, whilst amongst the younger people asked 67.5% supported further investigations.

In the meantime, the delays in progressing the other prosecutions clearly raises a concern that Comrade Duch may end up being the only trial the ECCC ever actually completes. The three defendants in the second case Noun Chea, Khieu Samphan and Ieng Thirithis are all suffering from health problems and may never make it to court.

So the excitement being generated in the international media is for a trial where the defendant has already confessed his guilt and expressed his remorse for his actions. According to his lawyer Francois Roux "Duch wishes to ask forgiveness from the victims but also from the Cambodian people. He will do so publicly. This is the very least he owes the victims."

Ultimately what can be expected from this first test of the ECCC? Clearly Duch's evidence will provide a valuable public record of the operation of Toul Sleng, and many are hoping that his evidence will provide some answers to the questions concerning what the Khmer Rouge did to their compatriots and why. His evidence may also provide some powerful testimony in relation to the other defendants due to be prosecuted by the ECCC. Cambodians certainly are aware of the moment of history and powerful potential the trial offers, as many queued to attend the first day of hearings.
Links to some of the coverage:
AP, BBC, Guardian, Irish Times, Reuters

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Wednesday, 4 March 2009

ICC issues arrest warrant against Sudan president

The International Criminal Court (ICC) today issued an arrest warrant and charged the Sudanese head of state Omar al-Bashir with war crimes and crimes against humanity arising out of the conflict in Darfur. The judges dismissed the prosecution's most contentious charge of genocide which arose out of allegations that Bashir had tried to wipe out three non-Arab ethnic groups.This is the first time the ICC has issued an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state.An aide to President Bashir was quoted in the Guardian as describing the decision as “neo-colonialism”; whilst protesters took to the streets of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

The ICC, in its press release, reported that

“The Chamber found that Omar al Bashir, as the de jure and de facto President of Sudan and Commander-in-Chief of the Sudanese Armed Forces, is suspected of having coordinated the design and implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign. In the alternative, it also found that there are reasonable grounds to believe that he was in control of all branches of the “apparatus” of the State of Sudan and used such control to secure the implementation of the counter-insurgency campaign.”

Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, welcomed the decision but there has been disquiet amongst those who have been trying to broker peace talks in the area. Arab states and the African Union had argued for a postponement of the charges to allow Bashir a final chance to end the Darfur conflict while not under duress.

Sudan does not recognise the ICC, and Bashir said the court could "eat" the arrest warrant, which he described as a western plot to hinder Sudan's development. Despite this, the case will raise questions about his political future.

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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Khmer Rouge trial date announced

The first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader is due to start 17th February 2009. Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Comrade Duch is facing charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes. He was in charge of the infamous Toul Sleng prison where detainees were tortured and killed and is the first of five detainees to be sent for trial.

It is reported by officials that Duch, who has been detained since 1999 and has previously admitted his guilt, has been cooperating with prosecutors and is willing to testify in court. The testimony may well reveal significant information about how the Khmer Rouge leadership made their decisions during their time in power.

For the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), this will be first real move towards prosecuting Khmer Rouge leadership. Whilst the trial may finally draw some attention away from corruption scandals and delays that have dogged the Court it is likely that the trial process will face further delays as the court takes it first steps towards its real work.

The hearing in February will simply examine the lists of witnesses and rule the important question of the extent to which “civil parties” can participate in the trial. The question of how far the victims of the Khmer Rouge will be able to have their voices heard in this and future trials is important and still to be fully resolved. In a decision in March last year the pre-trial chamber of the ECCC ruled that victims should be allowed to participate in court proceedings. However, in subsequent rulings the ECCC appeared to limit the right finding that civil parties could not speak in person in pre-trial appeals.

The ECCC has now launched a media campaign to encourage victims to participate in the upcoming proceedings. Thus civil parties have been given until the 2nd February to come forward. So far 28 people have been officially recognised as civil parties and 70 are being processed.

The trial of Duch is scheduled to begin in March. It is thought that the trials of the other four detainees will not start before 2010.

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Friday, 11 July 2008

ICC Prosecutor to Charge Sudanese President?

This blog post was submitted by PhD candidate and Government of Ireland Scholar Pádraig McAuliffe, who is reading for a PhD entitled The Serious Crimes Process of East Timor in the Field of Human Rights Law under the supervision of CCJHR Co-Director, Dr. Siobhán Mullally

The Guardian, The New York Times and the BBC this morning report that the ICC Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo is to seek the arrest of the Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir on Monday next for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in Darfur. Currently, two Sudanese (Ali Kushayb, a leader of the Janjaweed militia, and Ahmad Harun, currently fulfilling one of the more ironic positions imaginable, that of domestic Humanitarian Affairs minister) are charged with 51 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including acts of murder, persecution, torture, rape and forcible displacement. Neither has come before the Court. At a time of existential crisis for the ICC, the move can be interpreted as a bid to reassert the ongoing relevance of a body that has yet to complete a trial since establishment in 2002 after the signing of the Rome Statute in 1998. As William Schabas, the head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights at the National University of Ireland, notes: “This is a very decisive moment for the court. It has been going through a terrible period, this could revive its image and make people feel it's a robust dynamic institution, or it could be another blow.” This note of pessimism is worth bearing in mind – the story of the ICC has been one of disappointment, disillusionment and anticlimax, most notably in the disintegration of the case against Joseph Kony and allegations by diplomats that the pursuit of arrest warrants in Uganda hampered peace negotiations.

There are justifiable fears that an indictment of Al-Bashir will impair what halting progress there has been made in calming, albeit imperfectly, the situation in Darfur. There are also fears an indictment might serve as motivation to remove international aid workers and peacekeepers in Darfur. The NY Times quotes Alex de Waal, a Sudan expert at the Social Science Research Council in New York: “Bashir is paranoid; he feels the world is out to get him. He is prone to irrational outbursts and could respond in a very aggressive way.” Indeed, peacekeepers were attacked with seven fatalities last Tuesday, while several members of Doctors Without Borders were expelled from the country last week. A charge against Al-Bashir would represent another welcome erosion of the idea of head of state immunity most notable in the prosecutions of Slobodan Milosevic and Charles Taylor. Though both were sitting heads of state at the time of indictment, there was little prospect of them being brought before the ICTY and SCSL while in power, as the Sudanese President so securely is. Milosevic and Taylor had to be removed from office domestically before being brought to justice, something there is little prospect of in Khartoum. Charges might also be welcomed as a move away from the patent absurdity of charging militia leaders and Ministers but ignoring those “conflict entrepreneurs” further up the chain who instigate or retain the capacity to restrain the violence.

Nonetheless, aside from the Kantian moral imperative to prosecute, what of the other instrumental purposes that so often animate transitional justice? Put more simply, given the patent unlikelihood of Al-Bashir being arrested and brought to The Hague any time in the foreseeable future, what good will come from charging someone who will never come before the courts and from hardening the attitude of someone who has shown a willingness to slaughter his own people and to remove international peacekeepers and aid workers whenever it becomes politic to do so? The ICC Chief Prosecutor’s attitude seems to be that it is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness, but the candle could set fire to the negotiations that have brought peacekeepers to Darfur and restrained the butchery. It may dash what little hope of progress that remains.

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