Performance and Perception: The Impact of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia

Performance and Perception: The Impact of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia

When the forces of the Party of Democratic Kampuchea―the Khmer Rouge―seized Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh in April 1975, they began a reign of terror that brought death to nearly a quarter of the country’s eight million people, and added a new chapter to the 20th century’s grim history of mass atrocities.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is tasked with bringing to trial those responsible for the war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed by the Khmer Rouge regime between April 1975 and December 1979.

This report grapples with all the complexity, promise, and shortcomings of the ECCC, which began operations in 2007. Its prosecution of the top surviving Khmer Rouge leaders has been called the biggest war crimes trial since Nuremberg. Yet the tribunal’s operations have been dogged by allegations of political interference, and complaints over the slow pace and the costs of the proceedings. 

The Open Society Justice Initiative has regularly monitored and reported on events at the tribunal. Drawing on that accumulated knowledge, this report’s first half assesses the court’s efforts to provide accountability for Khmer Rouge crimes, and its broader impact on the development of the rule of law in Cambodia. 

The report’s second half looks at how the intended beneficiaries of the court feel about its work. Based on dozens of interviews with court staff, ordinary Cambodians, and even former members of the Khmer Rouge, Performance and Perception offers the most comprehensive assessment to date of what the ECCC has done, and what Cambodians think of it.