Neglecting Social and Economic Rights Violations in Transitional Justice: Long-Term Effects on Accountability

Tine Destrooper


This article builds on theories about the expressive function of law and uses Structural Topic Modelling to examine how the prioritisation of civil and political rights (CPR) issues by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has affected the agendas of Cambodian human rights NGOs with an international profile. It asks whether these NGOs’ focus on CPR issues can be traced back to the near-exclusive focus on CPR issues by the court, and whether this has implications for the creation of a “thick” kind of human rights accountability. It argues that, considering the nature of the Khmer Rouge’s genocidal policy, it would have been within the mandate and capacity of the court to pay more attention to actions that also constituted violations of economic, social, and cultural rights (ESCR). The fact that the court did not do this and instead almost completely obscured ESCR rhetorically has triggered a similar blind spot for ESCR issues on the part of human rights NGOs, which could have otherwise played an important role in creating a culture of accountability around this category of human rights. Does this mean that violators of ESCR are more likely to escape prosecution going forward?

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