Blog/Behind the scenes

ECCC staff instrumental in transmitting ICJ judgement on Preah Vihear to Cambodians

When the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued its judgment on the Preah Vihear temple in the Hague on Monday, November 12 2013, four interpreters from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) ensured that the details of the decision could be heard by Cambodians.

Three out of four interpreters: (From the left) Mr. Polida Kheng, Mr. Sopheaktra Chheav and Mr. Kompeak Phoeung.

Reacting to a request for assistance made by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the Court Management Section of the ECCC assigned interpreters, who voluntarily worked on  a national holiday to interpret the International Court of Justice Decision on the Request for Interpretation of the Judgment of 15 June 1962 in the Case concerning the Temple of Preah Vihear (Cambodia v. Thailand).live on Cambodian television. The live broadcast was produced by Cambodian News Channel (CNC), and several other major Cambodian TV-stations relayed the live audio and video from CNC. The Khmer interpretation team was made up of 4 ECCC interpreters: two from French into Khmer, Mr. Sopheaktra Chheav and Mr. Kompheak Phoeung, and two from English into Khmer, Mr. Polida Kheng and Mr. Sopagna Seang. This was the first instance that simultaneous interpretation of an ICJ decision has been done in Cambodia through live television.

The interpreters were only given a few days to familiarize themselves with the highly complex legal case and cited their work at the ECCC as instrumental in preparing them for this task. “Thanks to the experience obtained on the course of our job at the ECCC and with the assistance, coaching and training conducted by international senior interpreters on interpretation-related themes, I am able to apply all these techniques on the day ICJ’s judgment on Preah Vihear case was read,” stated interpreter Polida Kheng.

His colleague, Mr. Sopheaktra Chheav further elaborates on the preparatory work the team completed before travelling to the CNC’s TV station:  “We printed out all the documents to read at home, watched video clips on  the ICJ website to be familiar with the pronunciation and accent of the ICJ President, Mr. Peter Tomka, and established a glossary of technical terminology,”

The ECCC’s role was also highlighted by Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, in an article submitted to the Cambodia daily dated November 13 in which he states that “the ECCC has provided critical training and experience to many Cambodians, and it is through this experience that the four translators were able to work with such skill and confidence”.

For their part, the translators expressed honour in being able to participate in the proceedings and the importance of disseminating such important information to their fellow Cambodians. “The positive effect of this cannot be underestimated given that Cambodian people have had limited access to information due partly to language barrier and lack of publicity,” stated interpreter Sopagna Seang. The interpretation of this decision ensured that the ICJ’s decision were more broadly accessible to Cambodians across the country

Hidden behind the black screen

Their work has appeared on CNN, BBC, Al Jazeera and numerous other TV-stations around the world.  Hidden behind a giant black glass screen inside the courtroom, the staff of the ECCC's Audio and Video Unit ensure that every word spoken in court is captured and transmitted - enabling all judges and parties to communicate with each other in Khmer, English and French, the three official languages of the ECCC.

Armed with six high definition video cameras and numerous microphones, AV Technician Mr. Khlok Soussolalin and his two colleagues make sure that everything happening in the courtroom gets properly documented and recorded.  Editing and directing the cameras in real-time, not a single word uttered will escape their attention before being transmitted to the court interpreters, who will interpret the spoken words into the two other official languages of the court.  This audio interpretation is in turn transmitted back to the actors inside the courtroom, all happening within milliseconds.

Mr. Khlok Soussolalin in the AV control room.

Mr. Khlok says it is very challenging to direct and mix the video and audio from 6 different cameras in real-time.  “Sometimes there are rapid exchanges between the different lawyers in the courtroom, and they may even be speaking to each other in different languages.  In a matter of seconds we have to choose which of the six cameras can best capture the current speaker”, Mr. Khlok explains. As the ECCC is a Cambodian court, the AV-team directs the cameras and mixes the video footage  based on the Khmer language audio feed.

Witness testimonies can sometimes pose additional challenges to the AV-team. During the trial hearings many witnesses have to recap very painful and personal memories from the past, and such testimonies may trigger strong emotions in the courtroom. “If a witness breaks down in tears during a testimony, we try to switch to a different camera so that the witness’ privacy can be respected. Our job is to document what is being said in court, not to produce a TV-show”, says Mr. Khlok.

Armed but not dangerous. Six cameras capture everything that goes on in the courtroom.

The audio and video feeds produced by the AV-team are also available to all media representatives who follow the proceedings in the media room. This enables the media to record and broadcast the audio and video from the court proceedings live. Many radio and TV-stations have used this opportunity throughout the proceedings. The opening statements in Case 002 were broadcast live on all Cambodian TV-stations, and the largest commercial Cambodian TV-station CTN/CNC has had several live broadcasts from the trial proceedings. The same feeds are also available in real-time in three languages on the ECCC website.

A team from CNN records the audio and video feed during the pronouncment of the verdict in the the case against Kaing Guek Eav alias Duch.

The work of the AV-team is not only important to ensure that hearings can run smoothly in three languages. The audio records produced for each trial hearing are also transcribed verbatim in order to make a transcript of the proceedings, a crucial tool for both judges and the parties in their preparation for future hearings, submissions and deliberations.

Although being standard practice in international courts, the scale of the audio and video recordings and systems in use at the ECCC is unprecedented in the Cambodian judiciary.  AV Professionals with experience from the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) came to Phnom Penh to train the AV team at the ECCC prior to the commencement of the trials. To build local capacity, the AV-team was initially also supervised by an international staff member. When the international AV-supervisor resigned earlier this year it was decided that a new international AV-supervisor was not required, so the AV-team is now staffed exclusively with Cambodian nationals.

The AV-team (from left:Khlok Soussolalin, Dith Nimol and Hak Sothea).


The AV-team is hidden behind a giant black glass window in the courtroom.

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