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YLS Students Assist the Extraordinary Courts in the Chambers of Cambodia

 

In fall 2006, Dawn Yamane Hewett ’08 met with Judge Motoo Noguchi of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), and an extraordinary project was born. The United Nations and the Cambodian government established the ECCC as a “hybrid” domestic-international court in 2003. Its objective is to try the top-level leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime who were thought to be responsible for the deaths of a quarter of Cambodia’s population from 1975–79. Hewett and Noguchi identified a need at the underfunded and understaffed ECCC: solid and insightful research into cutting-edge international law issues that the court would be likely to confront. Yale Law students were perfect for the job.

In spring 2007, the Yale Legal Project Assisting the Extraordinary Courts in the Chambers of Cambodia, colloquially referred to as the ECCC Project, officially got its start with Clinical Professor Jim Silk ’89 as its faculty adviser. Students in the ECCC Project essentially act as non-resident law clerks, conducting legal research and writing bench memoranda for the Supreme Court Chamber of the ECCC. Although the specific memo topics are confidential, the research has involved cutting-edge issues of international law, such as jurisdiction, immunity, victims’ participation, reparations, and compliance with international human rights standards. Students also meet weekly to discuss issues of human rights, international criminal law, transitional justice, and Cambodian history. As a combination Lowenstein Project and student-run reading group, students receive two ungraded credits for their work.

Students have been enthusiastic about the Project. Spring 2008 ECCC Project member Benjamin Taibleson ’10 noted, “I marvel that I’ve had the opportunity to make even a small contribution to the trailblazing efforts of the Khmer Rouge Tribunals. The ECCC Project, in combining collaborative discussion and challenging, practical clinical research, represents the best of what I hoped to find at Yale.”

In spring 2008, the ECCC Project was nominated as one of three student organizations that had provided “exceptional public service” for the 2007–2008 school year.