For the first time in the history of international criminal justice, victims of mass crimes have been granted the status of so-called ‘civil parties’ at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). This status grants them – at least theoretically – the right to participate in the proceedings as a formal party with broad participatory rights similar to the those of the defence and the prosecution. While the ECCC is exemplary in how it has addressed the issue of victims’ participation, practical necessities and judicial skepticism have led to significant changes in the civil party mechanism and continuously constrained participatory rights. First, changes in the ECCC's Internal Rules have significantly altered the original civil party mechanism and led to a form of victim participation similar to the one practised at the International Criminal Court (ICC), thus departing from the true meaning of a partie civile. Judicial decisions by the ECCC's judges, as well as changes in the Internal Rules, have abrogated the strong civil party mechanism that was originally anticipated in Cambodian criminal procedure law. Second, the practical challenges surrounding victim participation have been enormous. The Court itself was struggling due to lack of funding and lack of prioritization of a meaningful outreach program for victims and civil parties. The ECCC's Public Affairs Section (PAS) and the Victims Support Section (VSS) held the responsibility of reaching out to the general Cambodian population. However, it was Cambodian NGOs that ultimately established a collaborative outreach system and collected more than 8,000 Victim Information Forms (VIFs). All these efforts notwithstanding, only political willingness and a Cambodian discussion of how to deal with the vast number of perpetrators beyond a handful of criminal trials, can lead to a process of coming to terms with one's past.
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