By Nicole Shackleton
As a student, I wrote my Law Honours Thesis on the topic of individual criminal responsibility in International Criminal Law; a topic that has interested me since I competed in the International Criminal Court Trial Competition in the Hague in 2012. Accordingly, I was very excited to be offered an internship with the Nuon Chea defence team at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in May this year. This tribunal is hybrid, meaning it is under the joint control and management of both Cambodia and the United Nations, and in all sectors of the Court international and national staff work side-by-side. The ECCC is tasked with trying those most responsible for the atrocities that occurred during the rule of the Communist Part of Kampuchea, more commonly known as the Khmer Rouge, in Cambodia from 17 April 1975 – 7 January 1979, and with discovering the truth about what transpired during this period of Cambodia’s history.
At the end of August, I packed up my things and flew to Phnom Phen. The first thing you notice when you get off the plane (as in most other South-East Asian countries) is the stifling heat and humidity. I am residing in Phnom Phen during the wet season, which, I am told, is cooler than the dry season. However, with temperatures ranging from 25 – 35 degrees celsius every day, as well as the constant high humidity, it certainly doesn’t feel like it! There is also an abundance of mosquitos, tuk tuks, motorbikes and expensive cars, as well as no clear footpath on most roads. This makes walking to the bus stop every day a somewhat sweaty and precarious adventure!
Having said all of that, Cambodia is simply beautiful and bewitching, and Phnom Phen has (most of) the modern comforts we are accustomed to in Australia. The country itself is covered in lush green countryside, national parks and jungle. Along its coastline you will find stunning beaches with water that has the perfect temperature, totally empty of other people. The food is glorious, and most importantly, the local Khmer population are friendly and accommodating. All of this provides the perfect backdrop to my internship at the ECCC.
My internship began three weeks ago, on the 1 September. The ECCC is situated an hour outside Phnom Phen, at a renovated army base. The ECCC complex incorporates all aspects of the Court, including the Trial and Supreme Court Chambers, a prison complex in which the accused are held on remand during their trials, a public viewing gallery and the staff building. The first thing you notice when you walk into the building is the close proximity of each section to each other. The ECCC, which unlike the International Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda, operates according to the civil law system, consists of seven main legal sections: the Office of the Co-Investigative Judges, the Office of the Co-Prosecutors, Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyers, the Pre-Trial Chamber, the Trial Chamber, the Supreme Court Chamber and the Defence Support Section. For practicality reasons, all of these sections are housed in the same building, albeit in different parts.
I am working in the Defence Support Section, specifically as an international intern on the Nuon Chea defence team. Nuon Chea, otherwise known as Brother Number Two, is charged with crimes against humanity, genocide and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. The case against Nuon Chea and his co-accused Khieu Samphan, who is the former Head of State of the Democratic Kampuchea, was spilt into two separate trials – Case 002/01 and Case 002/02 in 2011. In Case 002/01, the Trial Chamber primarily considered the responsibility of Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan for crimes against humanity related to the mass evacuations of civilians from Phnom Phen that occurred in the days following the Khmer Rouge’s capture of the capital city on 17 April 1975. Judgement was handed down on the 7 August 2014, and both accused were found guilty of all charges and were sentenced to life imprisonment. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan appealed the decision and the Appeal’s judgement is scheduled for pronouncement on 23 November 2016.
In the mean time, hearings by the Trial Chamber regarding Case 002/02 are still ongoing, and assisting the team with their preparation is the main focus of my work at the Court. Currently, the Trial Chamber is considering the issue of internal purges and security centres, and forced marriage. In the next few months, the Chamber will begin their examination of Armed Conflict and the Role of the Accused, before adjourning to allow the teams to prepare their closing briefs.
I am really enjoying my internship at the ECCC, and I am looking forward to the next two and a half months. The experience has been very rewarding and I have gained invaluable knowledge working with the Nuon Chea Defence Team thus far.
Nicole Shackleton graduated from La Trobe Law School with a first class honours degree in Law in 2015, and has since been working at the School as a researcher and tutor. She is currently completing a three-month internship with the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).