A checkered history of ‘support’

[Published by the Phnom Penh Post on September 17, 2008.]

The “comment” by CHRAC and other NGOs (many of which are members of CHRAC)
on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Wednesday’s Post contained a remarkable statement: “Members of the NGO community in Cambodia have been strong supporters of an independent and credible tribunal to address Khmer Rouge crimes in a manner that meets international standards and leaves behind a strong legacy for Cambodian courts.”

The statement may be true of some members of some NGOs, but it is
demonstrably untrue of CHRAC. Most Cambodian NGOs that expressed an opinion at the time were opposed to a joint Cambodian-international trial of the KR. They favored a completely international trial, located outside Cambodia, which would have left a “legacy” of nothing at all for Cambodian courts.

During the long negotiations to establish the ECCC, public comments by
Cambodian NGOs (and some international ones as well) were generally to the effect that there was no point in negotiating with the Cambodian government. They argued the government really didn’t want a trial, and that the UN or “international community” should conduct trials unilaterally, without involving Cambodians in any role other than as defendants and witnesses.

When the UN Office of Legal Affairs pulled out of the negotiations in
February 2002, the “NGO community” applauded enthusiastically. CHRAC issued a press release stating that it “would like to express its understanding of and support for the United Nations decision to withdraw from the current process of establishing a tribunal for the Khmer Rouge”.

The CHRAC press release went on, in the name of “the Cambodian people at
large”, to declare that “only the United Nations has the power and credibility needed for justice” and to urge the UN “to persist in its best efforts to provide for redress and justice in Cambodia” – but without negotiating with the Cambodian government.

And CHRAC added that it didn’t want Cambodia to receive any other outside
help: “With regard to individual member states of the UN, CHRAC urges them not to consider participating in any tribunal unless it is held under the auspices of the UN.”

When the ECCC was established as a joint court despite CHRAC’s advice, it
necessarily changed the form of its “support”, although not the real
content. CHRAC has spent the last three years sniping at Cambodian
involvement in the court, from attacking the Bar Association for acting like a Bar Association, to telling the government how much money it should
contribute to the court, to accusing unnamed persons of having killed Ta Mok by denying him medical care (the evidence for the last claim being the
assertion that it was “generally believed”).

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