By Nicole Shackleton
On 4 December 2016, I returned from a three-month internship with the Nuon Chea Defence Team at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (‘ECCC’). My internship was one of the most rewarding and valuable experiences I have undertaken since graduating from La Trobe Law School in 2015. Not only did my internship contribute to my understanding of international criminal law and international humanitarian law, but it also contributed to my professional development. Additionally, during my time in Cambodia I worked with a fabulous and supportive legal team, made many new friends and traveled throughout Southeast Asia.
The ECCC is a hybrid tribunal, meaning it is under the joint control and management of both Cambodia and the United Nations. The ECCC is tasked with trying those most responsible for the atrocities that occurred during the rule of the Communist Part of Kampuchea from 17 April 1975 – 7 January 1979, and with discovering the truth about what transpired during this period of Cambodia’s history.
During my internship I worked in the Defence Support Section, specifically as an international intern on the Nuon Chea Defence Team. Nuon Chea 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, was spilt into two separate trials, Case 002/01 and Case 002/02, in 2011. On 7 August 2014, the Trial Chamber gave its decision in Case 002/01, finding both accused guilty of all charges and sentencing them to life imprisonment. Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan appealed the decision, and the Appeal Judgement was handed down on 23 November 2016. The Court affirmed parts of the Trial Judgement, quashed other parts, and upheld the life sentences of the two accused. I was fortunate to be present in the Courtroom when a summary of the Appeal Judgement was read out, and at the press conference for the Defence after the hearing. It was fascinating to observe the change in the dynamic of the Court when under the watchful eye of domestic and international media, and it will be interesting to see how the Appeal Judgement impacts on the ongoing trial of Case 002/02.
The majority of my work at the ECCC focused on assisting the team with their preparation for Case 002/02. During my internship, the Trial Chamber heard evidence on the segments, ‘internal purges and security centres’, ‘forced marriage’, ‘armed conflict’ and the ‘role of the accused’. Once the oral hearings have concluded, the Chamber will adjourn to allow the teams time to prepare their closing briefs.
Cambodia is a beautiful, if not slightly terrifying, country in which to live and work. The people are friendly and welcoming, the food is excellent, and getting around is cheap. On the other hand, daily life consisted of avoiding traffic, mosquitoes and the ever-present humidity. Once you leave Phnom Penh, Cambodia feels luscious and tropical, with beaches and islands that are virtual untouched. Cambodia is also situated in the middle of South East Asia, and I was able to travel to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam and Langkawi in Malaysia during my internship.
I developed many supportive friendships and professional relationships during my time in Cambodia. My two roommates were also interns at the ECCC, and three other interns lived in the same apartment building. Together we dodged traffic and mosquitoes to and from the bus stop everyday, explored Cambodia, and supported each other throughout our internships. I leant lot from other interns who had studied in the UK, Europe or the United States, or who were at different stages of their professional legal careers. I also really enjoyed spending so much time with like-minded people my own age. Many of the people I met during my time in Cambodia will be life long friends, and I hope to work with them in the future as colleagues.
All the lawyers in my team were experienced, thoughtful and supportive of the intern’s professional development. My supervisor was an excellent mentor, and she dedicated many hours to reviewing my work and providing useful feedback. Throughout my time at the ECCC my professional legal skills and abilities improved, and I also developed skills that I did not have before my internship. My work would not have been as rewarding had it not been for the support and positive learning environment provided by my supervisor and the Nuon Chea defence team.
I really enjoyed my time at the ECCC, and I would recommend an internship of this sort to all law students and recent graduates. I am looking forward to applying the skills that I learnt during my internship to my research here at the Law School, and plan to continue to follow the happenings at the ECCC.
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).
Application forms for ECCC internships can be found on the ECCC’s official website.