Hybrid Justice: Trials and Errors at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal


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When: Jan 16 2014 - 12:00pm until Jan 16 2014 - 1:30pm
Where: 1819 L St, NW, Washington, DC. Sixth Floor Conference Room

Hybrid Justice: Trials and Errors at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal

An Asia Pacific Governance and Human Rights Seminar and Book Launch featuring:

Dr. John D. Ciorciari
Assistant Professor, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

Dr. John Ciociari explained history and complicated structure of the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia to an audience at the East-West Center in Washington.

In 2006, a UN-backed tribunal opened its doors to try key Khmer Rouge officials for atrocities of the late 1970s. This unique “hybrid” tribunal fuses Cambodian and international laws, procedure, and personnel in an effort to deliver justice for some of modern history’s most egregious crimes. As Dr. John Ciorciari argues, operating the hybrid court effectively has proven very difficult, and despite some successes, the tribunal’s legacy is in peril.

In a forthcoming book, Hybrid Justice: The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (University of Michigan Press, 2014), Ciorciari and international lawyer Anne Heindel show how the tribunal was created and how its unique legal and institutional features and political in-fighting have often impaired the court’s ability to deliver credible justice, connect to victims, manage resources responsibly, and leave a positive legacy for the rule of law in Cambodia.

In this presentation, he discussed lessons that can be drawn from the Cambodian experience and offered recommendations on how future hybrid tribunals and international courts can address some of the challenges of mass crimes proceedings.

Dr. Ciorciari began with an explanation how this unique UN-backed tribunal, created to try key Khmer Rouge officials for atrocities in the late 1970s, came to be. Much of its "trials and errors" are characterized by the fact that the court was developed to be a "hybrid court", having two separate international and national arms. Difficulties in trying to reconcile these two sides, which have different procedures, administration, and even legal traditions, has added further complication and expensive delays to the already difficult task of trying perpetrators of mass atrocities. As a result few cases, which he describes in detail in his book, have reached a court, and of those, most are not expected to be completed.

Among the lessons learned from the experience of this body for future tribunals, the need to avoid such a hybrid model is key. A more effective body requires non-ambiguous rules, committed and predictable funding, and independent (non-politicized) personnel, with the UN taking a more "robust role" in its facilitation. However, Dr. Ciorciari noted, it was not without its good elements. The Khmer tribunal introduced many elements that were not seen elsewhere in Cambodian law at the time, including computerized records, and a forum for the criticism of the government. Also allowing victims to come forth to give testimony, a feature of one of the case studies, should be considered for future atrocities tribunals, albeit with a more structured procedure for facilitating it.

Dr. John Ciorciari (JD, DPhil) is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy and senior legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent institute dedicated to historical memory and justice. He is also an associate fellow at the Asia Society and term member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Primary Contact Info:
Name: Grace Ruch Clegg
Phone: 202-327-9762