Massachusetts Judge Named to Cambodian War Crimes Tribunal
Phillip Rapoza, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, has been appointed as the International Reserve Judge for the Supreme Court Chamber of a UN-backed war crimes tribunal in Cambodia. The tribunal, formally known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), is conducting trials with respect to serious crimes and violations of human rights that occurred in that country during the reign of the Khmer Rouge. As the International Reserve Judge for the Supreme Court Chamber of the tribunal, Chief Justice Rapoza may be asked to attend appellate arguments and to assist if a sitting judge on the chamber is temporarily unable to perform his or her functions. Similarly, in the event of a vacancy on the Supreme Court Chamber, the reserve judge may be called upon to fill that position.
The appointment of Rapoza as International Reserve Judge will not affect his tenure on the Appeals Court and he will continue to serve as the court's Chief Justice. Should he be asked to go from reserve to permanent status on the Cambodian tribunal, the circumstances would be re-examined at that time. Chief Justice Rapoza consulted with the pertinent Massachusetts ethics authorities prior to accepting the new appointment.
The ECCC was established to bring to justice senior leaders and those most responsible for the deaths of as many as two million Cambodians under the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979. The work of the tribunal has been compared in its scope and significance to the Nuremberg trials following World War II. Created pursuant to an agreement between the UN and Cambodia, the ECCC is staffed by both international and Cambodian judges.
Chief Justice Rapoza was nominated as the International Reserve Judge for the Supreme Court Chamber by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and his nomination was approved by the Cambodian Supreme Council of Magistracy. The appointment was subsequently confirmed by royal decree of King Norodom Sihamoni.
"I am honored by both the Secretary-General's nomination and the approval of my appointment by the Cambodian authorities. The work of the ECCC is historic in nature and it is humbling to be involved in this important undertaking," said Chief Justice Rapoza. Commenting on Chief Justice Rapoza's appointment, Chief Justice Roderick L. Ireland of the Supreme Judicial Court stated: "Chief Justice Rapoza is an exceptional judge and a recognized leader in the judiciary. His appointment confirms the high regard in which he is held and reflects well not only on him, but also on the Massachusetts judiciary of which he is an important part."
Chief Justice Rapoza has been active in the field of international justice throughout his judicial career. Prior to his appointment as Chief Justice of the Appeals Court, from 2003 to 2005 he took an unpaid statutory leave of absence from his state court duties to serve as an international judge and the coordinator of the Special Panels for Serious Crimes in East Timor. The Special Panels, which was also a UN-backed tribunal, dealt with crimes against humanity and other serious offenses that took place in the period leading up to Timorese independence. Since then Chief Justice Rapoza has returned to East Timor on numerous occasions to assist with UN efforts to develop the country's justice sector. He has also headed a UN Criminal Justice Advisory Team in Haiti and has participated in programs and trainings in Cambodia relating to the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Chief Justice Rapoza received a B.A. magna cum laude from Yale University and a J.D. from Cornell Law School. After 16 years as a prosecutor and in private practice, he was appointed a trial judge, first in the District Court and later in the Superior Court. In 1998, he was appointed to the Appeals Court and was named Chief Justice in 2006. Chief Justice Rapoza, who is of Portuguese descent, was decorated by the President of Portugal in 2002 and holds the rank of Commander in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator. He also is a recipient of the Brazilian Medal of International Merit. He is currently president of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation, which has consultative status with several UN agencies and promotes studies in the field of crime prevention and the treatment of offenders.