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“The recent milestone judgement in ECCC Case 002/02: Looking at the implications for international criminal accountability, in Cambodia and beyond”
2019 marks the 40th year anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime under which at least 1.7 million people are believed to have died from starvation, torture, execution and forced labour. Though 40 years have passed, the fight against impunity and to achieve accountability for the crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime continues.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was established by agreement between the Government of Cambodia and the United Nations to bring justice to the people of Cambodia for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s. The ECCC is a unique judicial institution established within the Courts of Cambodia, but with international participation and funding made available through voluntary contributions from the Member States of the United Nations.
The judgments and convictions issued to date by the ECCC have made significant contributions to the development of international criminal law. This includes the final conviction and life imprisonment of Kaing Guek Eav (Duch), the Secretary of the notorious S-21 Security Centre, for crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. It also includes the final convictions of Nuon Chea, Chairman of the Democratic Kampuchea People’s Assembly, and Khieu Samphan, Head of State of Democratic Kampuchea, for crimes against humanity. Most recently, the Trial Chamber issued its historic judgment in the second case against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, in which they were convicted on a wider set of charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, and grave breaches of the 1949 Geneva Conventions. In particular, it is notable for being the first genocide conviction in Cambodia, as well as for establishing that the crime against humanity of other inhumane acts had been committed also through forced marriage and rape in the context of forced marriage, which is a significant contribution to the jurisprudence in this area.
The important work of the ECCC will continue with the appeal of the most recent judgment against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, as well as with judicial proceedings in three other ongoing cases.
As the international community continues to seek accountability for serious crimes that are being committed in a wide variety of circumstances, the work of the ECCC will no doubt continue to influence the development of other existing and future international accountability efforts. The ECCC also stands as a reminder, to all perpetrators of such serious crimes, of the international community’s unwavering commitment to international criminal accountability, regardless of the passage of time. As the Court is funded through voluntary contributions from Member States, it is vital that the international community continues to support the work of the Court in order to enable it to fulfill its important mandate.
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