ECCC Reparations

This blog is designed to serve as a repository of analyses, news reports and press releases related to the issue of RERAPATIONS within the framework of the Extraordinary Chambers in Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), a.k.a. the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Hawaii man helping to bring justice to genocide victims

Hawaii man helping to bring justice to genocide victims

By Dan Nakaso

Advertiser Staff Writer

Posted on: Monday, October 22, 2007

Phil Estermann of Honolulu is in Cambodia this week with the daunting task of helping create an international court system to try alleged leaders of the Khmer Rouge — while simultaneously educating a mostly illiterate society about a genocide that occurred a generation ago.

"It's tremendously challenging and interesting," said Estermann, grants officer for the Honolulu-based East-West Center. "One of the realities is that across the country there are many former Khmer Rouge living side-by-side in the same communities with non-Khmer Rouge. It's not an easy task to try to deal with that."

Estermann has been back and forth to Cambodia through a partnership between the East-West Center and the War Crimes Studies Center at the University of California, Berkeley.

The nascent courts system — called the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia — is being developed after years of negotiations between the United Nations and the Cambodian government.

It will include closed-door hearings by investigative judges that could last more than a year, followed by a trial chamber and a possible Supreme Court chamber to hear potential appeals.

The various judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys will come from Cambodia, New Zealand, France, Japan, Poland, Sri Lanka, Australia and the Netherlands.

It's Estermann's job to help prepare them for the uncertain future that lies ahead as two former Khmer Rouge officials — Kaing Geuk Eav and Nuon Chea — head toward trials for crimes against humanity.

They're entitled to both international and Cambodian defense attorneys and every document and everything that's said has to be translated into Cambodian, French and English.

"The makeup of the court is extremely complex and, for a lot of the participants, quite frustrating," Estermann said. "Has anything ever been created like this? The answer is no. It is unique in its structure and is located within the Cambodian court system. Therefore the laws that apply are Cambodian as well as international."

He has helped organize workshops in Cambodia for judges, prosecutors and defense attorneys to consider issues such as genocide, command responsibility, joint criminal enterprise and crimes against humanity.

"One of the many complexities is to consider what laws were in existence when the alleged crimes were committed (between 1975 and 1979) and whether they apply," he said. "A whole body of law has been developed since after major tribunals in Yugoslavia and Rwanda. So the court is facing immense challenges."

At the same time, he has helped produce two of four planned videos about the Khmer Rouge and the genocide that resulted in an estimated 1 million to 2 million Cambodian deaths over only four years.

The first two videos feature actors who in reality survived the killing fields of Cambodia. They portray parents who are teaching their children about what happened during the reign of the Khmer Rouge and why the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia was created.

On many levels, the task of producing the 15- and 25-minute videos that would both pass court approval and educate a relatively young population is as challenging as setting up a multinational court system.

About 70 percent of Cambodia is younger than 30 and never directly experienced the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge.

But it's an even harder challenge to explain complex issues of law to a country that "is 85 percent rural and about 70 percent functionally illiterate," he said. "The average Cambodian might not be familiar with the word for a 'court' and a 'judge' and a 'prosecutor.' "

With $135,000 in grants from the British Embassy in Phnom Penh, the first two videos have aired repeatedly on Cambodian television and have been shown to 20 focus groups in six different locations.

Now, Estermann is working with nongovernmental organizations in Cambodia to show the videos in rural villages that often lack reliable power.

Reach Dan Nakaso at


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