Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer

Russell Hopkins, Legal Adviser to the Cambodian judges of the Trial Chamber at the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), speaks at the Judith Reppy Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies brown bag seminar on Thursday afternoon.

October 20, 2016

Lecturer Describes Delays and Difficulties of Justice in Cambodia Tribunals

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Corrections appended

Over 30 years after the end of the Cambodian Genocide, problems within the Khmer Rouge Tribunal’s structure make it difficult for leaders to promptly adjudicate crimes committed by senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

After working for the Cambodian judges in the Trial Chamber for over two years, Russell Hopkins — a legal adviser to the Trial Chamber of the court, established in 2006 by the United Nations with the Cambodian government — said he has witnessed these issues in the international tribunal’s operations and funding.

Hopkins made sure to stress that his comments in the lecture were offered to provoke discussion, and do not represent the view of the judges, the tribunal or any third party. He also said he would not discuss allegations involved in his cases.

Hopkins stressed the importance of examining the viability of hybrid tribunals — which are judicial systems that combine domestic and international judges and legal advisors. Specifically, he said their use must be considered in relation to new attempts to create international judicial responses to conflicts in Syria, Sri Lanka, the Central African Republic and Kosovo.

Hopkins described the legal process of the tribunal — which involves the investigative process, the Pre-Trial Chamber and the Supreme Court Chamber, adding that, because a matter can be litigated four times, this “undermines certainty” and can be “unnecessarily wasteful.”

Hopkins explained that the tribunal also encounters difficulty in funding. Forced to seek donations from foreign embassies, the tribunals lack a consistent means of covering the their budget — $29 million per year — making their existence “precarious.”

“There have been numerous budget crises over the years when in particular Cambodian judges and staff have been left unpaid,” he said. “There’ve even been strikes.” The UN recently described the tribunal’s funding position as “dire,” according to Hopkins.

While Khmer is the tribunal’s official language, Hopkins said often international judges and legal advisers are not fluent in Khmer and must work from translations. This delay can prove time consuming for a hybrid tribunal working to obtain accurate translation and interpretation.

He added that, although the tribunal process in Cambodia has its difficulties, the procedure provides lessons for future attempts to create hybrid tribunals.

“It’s really important that practitioners and academics get together to try to learn from the experiences and discuss the positive things and negative things in places like the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and to not repeat some of the mistakes that have been made in the past,” he said.

A previous version of this article incorrectly states that the tribunal was first established in 1997. In fact, a hybrid tribunal, building upon an earlier effort, was set up in 2006. 

A previous version of this article mischaracterized Russell Hopkins’ statements on the translations of Khmer, the official language of the tribunals. In fact, although all judges are fluent in the language, often international judges and legal advisors must use translations.