The American Lawyer
March 17, 2009
Thirty years after the totalitarian Khmer Rouge regime headed by the notorious dictator Pol Pot was forced from power, proceedings in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) have finally begun.
Pol Pot's dream of an agrarian utopia resulted in a genocide that's thought to have claimed the lives of nearly 2 million people -- about a third of Cambodia's population.
While Academy Award-winning films would capture the horror of the massacre, it wasn't until Pol Pot's death in 1998 and the eradication of the last vestiges of the Khmer Rouge that Cambodia began the process of bringing former regime figures to justice.
The venue will be the ECCC, which has its roots in a Cambodian government task force formed in 1997, and which under an agreement with the United Nations is now a "hybrid" tribunal consisting of both Cambodian and international judges and lawyers.
Daniella Rudy, a third-year litigation associate with Proskauer Rose in New York, will soon be a part of that international legal team. Rudy leaves in two weeks for Cambodia, where she will work for British barrister Karim Khan in trying a civil case against Kaing Guek Eav, a former Khmer official nicknamed "Duch" who ran the regime's most notorious prison.
We caught up with Rudy to chat about her decision to head to Phnom Penh, the ECCC and international living.
Hi, Daniella. So, why are you doing this?
I've always been interested in this type of work, having been active in Proskauer's pro bono program and working closely with [international legal counsel] Eric Blinderman, who heads a program here assisting Iraqi refugees. He's always known about my interests -- I was a former intern at the Yugoslav war crimes tribunal in The Hague -- and when he saw the application [for the ECCC job] he forwarded it to me. I thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity and the firm's been really supportive and encouraging.
Did you apply through the UN for this position?
No, I actually went through the legal team [in Cambodia]. I'm going to be working with one of the legal teams representing a group of victims who are civil parties to this trial. And they sent out an application through a variety of different means and channels. And through that it got to Eric Blinderman and then it made its way to me. As a team, they made the selection.
The individual going on trial is called "Duch" (pronounced "doik")?
Yeah. Pretrial hearings commenced Feb. 17, which dealt with the procedural aspects of the court, and the actual substantive trial is set to start on March 30. So we're definitely going ahead and it will be quite fascinating to see how it all goes, especially with respect to my case, where the civil parties will have a pretty substantial part in these proceedings.
It's my understanding that Duch has admitted some guilt. Is that correct?
That's right, he has said that he's sorry and not denying what has happened. A large part of this process is certainly seeking justice in a retributive system, but it's also a court that seeks reconciliation. Since this whole country was affected, [reconciliation] is something this whole country is committed to.
(Note: Former American Lawyer colleague Claire Duffett is now a freelance journalist based in Cambodia. You can find a detailed account of the charges against Duch in this piece she penned for The Economist as well as in a Q&A with a former Coudert Brothers patent litigator turned ECCC defense chief, available on Law.com's international page.)
This being a civil case, are you seeking damages from Duch?
There are moral collective damages. The basic structure is based on Cambodian law, which is in turn based on French civil law. In this case parties can join the criminal proceedings as civil parties. So it's not a true civil case as we would know it here, but a hybrid form whereby the civil parties seek moral damages and reparations for what has occurred.
Have you been to Cambodia before?
No I have not. I've been to Thailand but I'm sure [Cambodia] is quite different and unique.
When do you leave?
March 24th and I'll get there on the 25th. With the trial starting five days later, I'll definitely hit the ground running. Hopefully there won't be a delay.
How long do you expect to stay there? Is it just for this trial?
Yes. All of the attorneys out there on this case are working pro bono, including myself, so I'm planning to be there for five months. The trial is expected to last three to four months, give or take, and if possible I'd like to see it through. But it depends on how things go.
I understand that Mr. Khan is British. How about the rest of the trial team?
We've got Alain Werner, who worked as an assistant prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone on the Charles Taylor case. He's Swiss. Then we've got a fantastic Cambodian attorney named Ty Srinna. And we have Brianne McGonigle, who is a U.S. attorney that will be returning to Holland soon, where she is working at the University of Utrecht. So I'm going to be filling in for her, more or less. All of them have been working extremely hard to this point. We might get two more interns joining, but we're not sure yet.
And what's your status with Proskauer? Are you still on the payroll?
I will be taking a leave of absence but I will still receive a stipend. I plan on returning to the firm in September.
What do you hope to gain from this experience?
I'm looking forward to the hands-on experience since the team is very small, but the responsibilities will be great. And just working on a trial of such significance and being a part of that will help me [as a litigator], especially one that's representing the victim's in this case. I feel privileged to be a part of it.
All interviews are condensed and edited for style and grammar.