Episode 61 – The Trouble with the Cambodia Tribunal with Megan Hirst

Janet, Stephanie and editorial intern Margherita Capacci (bottom right) speak with Megan Hirst (top right)

The picture was all smiles, but the topic of our conversation with Megan Hirst was a lot more serious. Megan joined us to talk about victims’ participation at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) and why last July she decided to resign. 

“There definitely has been this narrative of the ECCC being very proud of itself as being at the forefront of victims participation and really presenting itself as having done a better job at that than the ICC [International Criminal Court], I think that the picture, in reality, is a lot more complicated than that,” Megan said.

The Cambodia Tribunal was not Megan’s first rodeo. She served first at the ICC and at the Special Tribunal for Lebanon and then at the ECCC, where in 2019 she started working as International Civil Party Lead Co-Lawyer in the case against Khieu Samphan.

Samphan is the last surviving Khmer Rouge leader. Investigating the crimes of the Khmer Rouge, which in the 1970s killed nearly 2 million people through starvation, torture, and forced labour, the ECCC started its operations in 2006 as a hybrid Cambodian and international tribunal, supported by the United Nations. Its Civil Parties account for 3,865 victims. 

Megan talks us through what her job as victims’ representative and how this representation can be exercised in a meaningful way. We also discuss the more nitty-gritty sides of hybrid tribunals: the time and money that are needed to make them work and whether there are real benefits from their international component. And Megan goes straight to the reasons why she decided to resign and what should change at the ECCC in terms of victims’ representation, also in light of the court’s future steps.   

Megan suggests the book Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada, both an interesting read and a good exercise to move away from the macro-level of international tribunals and back into the psychology of people living under authoritarian regimes.