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'Enemies of the People' in Context

Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)

After 10 years of negotiations, the United Nations and the Cambodian government established the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to try senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Nuon Chea, featured in Enemies of the People, was arrested in 2007 and charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide.

In 2006, after 10 years of international negotiations, the United Nations and the Cambodian government set up a unique hybrid tribunal to try the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge for international crimes. They called the tribunal the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). According to David Scheffer, former U.S. ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues, the creation of the ECCC took longer than the creation of any other international or hybrid criminal tribunal in the post-Cold War era.

In September 2007, the ECCC ordered the arrest of Nuon Chea. He was charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes. In 2009, the charge of genocide was added to his indictment, as well as to the indictments of three other former senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge. Later in 2009, 30 years after the end of the Khmer Rouge regime, the ECCC processed its first case: the trial of Kaing Guek Eav (more commonly known as Duch), the prison chief at Tuol Sleng detention center, who was charged with the deaths of over 10,000 prisoners in Phnom Penh. In July 2010, Duch was sentenced to 35 years in prison (later reduced to 19 years).

Meanwhile, the second preliminary ECCC hearing involving Nuon Chea and three former senior leaders, was held from June 27-30, 2011. A full trial of the four leaders will be held later this year. Nuon Chea walked out of the proceedings on the first day of the hearing saying that he did not believe he would receive a fair hearing. Court prosecutors told reporters that they thought the hearing was a success. One of the four, Khieu Samphan, told the judges that he was ready to cooperate with UN officials. The film Enemies of the People is expected to play a part in the proceedings. In the years since the Khmer Rouge's reign of terror there have been many books and films on the subject, most of them told from the point of view of the victims, but the true motives and experiences of the perpetrators have remained largely unexplained.

Some observers think the trials may hide more than they will reveal, and they doubt members of the current government, themselves former Khmer Rouge, will allow the whole truth to come out. Many concerns have been voiced over the inclusion of Cambodian judges in the tribunal, with the chief concern being that they may have an allegiance to the Cambodian government's political agenda. Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen has articulated a common sentiment, saying, "We should dig a hole and bury the past." Hun Sen has also said that he will not allow any additional prosecutions beyond those already under indictment. He has been accused of concealing evidence to protect senior figures in his party from being held accountable. The Open Society Justice Initiative, an international legal watchdog group, says the court ultimately may decide to strike a deal with the government, agreeing to end later cases in exchange for full cooperation from the government and witnesses in the upcoming trials of Nuon Chea and the three surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.

The trials are taking place in former military headquarters a half-hour's drive outside the city, and, according to Agence France-Presse, nine out of 10 Cambodians are unable to name the Khmer Rouge suspects going to trial. According to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, a quarter of respondents in a survey of 1,000 Cambodians reported knowing nothing about the tribunal. While this figure is down from 39 percent in 2008, one of the University of California researchers said that educating Cambodians about the upcoming trials would be "a key challenge" for the court. As the only war crimes court in the world to try its suspects in the country where the crimes took place, one of the court's main goals is to get Cambodians involved and interested in the trials.

According to the U.S. Department of State, donor countries have provided over $100 million to date in support of the United Nations-backed tribunal, including $6.8 million from the United States.

Image: A still from Enemies of the People; Credit: Courtesy of Enemies of the People

» Reporters. "Jailed Leader Offers Cooperation to Tribunal." VOA News, June 30, 2011.
» Mydans, Seth. "Khmer Rouge Leader Leaves Court, in Sign of Legal Wrangling to Come." The New York Times, June 27, 2011.
» "Cambodians ‘Know Little About Khmer Rouge Trial.'" Agence France-Presse, January 1, 2000.
» Cambodia Tribunal Monitor. "Civil Party Participation at ECCC: Overview."
» Dilger, Patrick. "Back to the Killing Fields." Yale Alumni Magazine, April 1996.
» Eckel, Mike. "Groups Fear Khmer Rouge Tribunal May Halt Trials." Associated Press, May 4, 2011.
» Enemies of the People. "Press Kit."
» Mydans, Seth. "Trial Begins for Khmer Rouge Leader." The New York Times, February 16, 2009.
» The New York Times. "Khmer Rouge."
» Scheffer, David. "The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia." In International Criminal Law, Cherif Bassiouni, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff, 2008
» U.S. Department of State. "Cambodia."

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