Blog/Civil Parties

Meeting Civil Parties in Kampong Cham

The Victims Support Section of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) conducted a Regional Civil Party Forum on 14 June to inform more than 200 out of the 3,866 civil parties from 6 provinces of the progress of the proceedings of Case 002. Having been monitoring the proceedings in Case 002 closely as an intern with the Public Affairs Section of the ECCC, and having recently listened to the Victim Impact Hearings it was a great opportunity to understand better the processes of victim participation in the ECCC and its significance in rebuilding in the aftermath of the mass atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge era, and to learn what the issues of greatest concern are to the Civil Parties in Case 002.



Throughout the day the Civil Parties received updates on the current work and progress of cases before the ECCC.  They were also able to discuss with their lawyers the implications of the severance order of Case 002 and receive information of their rights. The participants also heard a presentation by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judge, where those in attendance where encouraged to examine the list of crime sites disclosed for Cases 003 and 004 and to come forward if they believe they have information on crimes committed in these locations or would like to become Civil Parties in these cases. 

The range of questions asked by the participants was a testament to the necessity of conducting such forums. In a nation which is still highly dependent on limited print and radio news sources and word of mouth, as well having a high illiteracy rate particularly in the rural areas, such forums are crucial to ensure the accurate dissemination of information. Their questions frequently centered on concerns over the health of the remaining Accused and the likelihood that they will remain fit to be sentenced, confusion over their recent statements of apology during the victim impact hearings, and the types and forms of reparation that they were entitled to. Though the answer might not have always been to the their satisfaction, more often than not the ECCC representatives were able to allay their fears or improve their understanding of the issues.

Having just recently witnessed the Victim Impact Hearings of 15 Civil Parties in Case 002, attending the forum held an increased significance and provided me with a greater understanding of this aspect of the ECCC’s work. Involving the victims in the legal process has clearly been a very important step in the healing process for the individual as well as the collective. At different moments the Civil Parties expressed hope, happiness, anxiety and sorrow, but were at all times appreciative and engaged in the proceedings.  The Civil Parties I had a chance to speak with all expressed their gratitude to the ECCC for including them in the process. Further, each person believed that the ECCC would bring them justice, and felt that their voice was well represented in the judicial process by their Civil Party Lawyers. They were also appreciative of the work of the Victims Support Section, both in terms of the support offered and work of developing reparation activities.

The purpose of hearing victims’ suffering

Over the last two weeks of trial hearings, 15 victims who are participating in Case 002 as Civil Parties provided emotional testimonies about the harm they suffered personally during and in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge regime. Referred to as ‘victims impact hearings’, they concluded yesterday with the expert testimony of Dr. CHHIM Sotheara, who was questioned about this mental health work with survivors of the regime.

 

A short video clip with extracts from three of the testimonies

 

In order to be admitted as Civil Party, a victim must ”demonstrate as a direct consequence of at least one of the crimes alleged against the Charged Person, that he or she has in fact suffered physical, material or psychological injury upon which a claim of collective and moral reparation might be based” (Internal Rule 23 bis (1) (b)).

Civil Parties participate in the ECCC proceedings to pursue a claim for moral and collective reparation. Any reparation award is contingent upon a conviction of an Accused person. Collective and moral reparations are measures that:

a) acknowledge the harm suffered by Civil Parties as a result of the commission of the crimes for which an Accused is convicted and

b) provide benefits to the Civil  Parties which address this harm. These benefits shall not take the form of monetary payments to Civil Parties.
(Internal Rule 23 quinquies)

It is the Co-Investigating Judges, or in case of appeal, the Pre-Trial Chamber that will decide if a victim meets the requirement above to be admitted as a Civil Party.  When considering the admissibility of the Civil Party application, the Co-Investigating Judges shall be satisfied that facts alleged in support of the application are more likely than not to be true (Internal Rule 23 bis (1))

The 15 Civil Parties who were called to testify about harm suffered, were called based on a list of Civil Parties proposed by the Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyers and the Civil Party Co-Lawyers. The Civil Parties on this list were selected among the 3,866 Civil Parties admitted to Case 002 on the basis of the evidence they could provide on suffering, the relationship between this evidence and the crimes being tried in Case 002/01, and the diversity of impacts (suffering) represented.

We asked the Civil Party Lead Co Lawyers Mr. Pich Ang and Ms. Elisabeth Simonneau to explain the purpose of the hearings of impact and suffering from the perspective of Civil Parties:

“In the context of these legal proceedings and from the perspective of the Civil Parties, the purpose of the Hearings on Victim Impact is twofold .First, it is to provide the Trial Chamber with detailed, concrete and compelling evidence on the impact (suffering) experienced by Civil Parties as a consequence of the crimes alleged to have taken place in Democratic Kampuchea, particularly that evidence on impact (suffering) which relates to the crimes being tried in Case 002/01: forced transfer phases 1 and 2 and the executions at Tuol Po Chrey. This evidence will assist the Trial Chamber in assessing the gravity of the crimes, placing them in their proper context, and determining the appropriateness of the reparations claimed to remedy these harms. Accordingly, the Hearings on Impact are an essential mechanism for bringing the human toll of these crimes into the proceedings.

Second, though not the raison d'être for these hearings, another undeniably important aspect of these hearings is the opportunity they provide for at least a limited number of Civil Parties to tell their stories in an official, judicial setting with the presence of (and sometimes exchange with) one or more of the Accused. Under the right circumstances, this can be a meaningful, empowering and healing experience for civil parties wherein the process itself provides a reparative benefit—in the broader meaning of the term”

During the trial, Civil Parties do not participate individually – they comprise one consolidated group of Civil Parties. Ms. Simmoneu-Fort confirms that in this context, the 15 Civil Parties who testified during the last two weeks symbolically seek to demonstrate the harm suffered on behalf of the whole consolidated group of Civil Parties in Case 002.

 

Complete testimony of Mrs. Bay Sophany on 4 June 2013:

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