International Community Concerned over Quality of Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Posted by khmernews on January 31, 2007

International observers said that the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia, whose judges and prosecutors were nominated by the Cambodian government and the UN and have just been made known recently, is different from other tribunals for prosecution of genocidal crimes taking place in Rwanda, Africa and in Yugoslavia of Central Europe.

The difference is that the Khmer Rouge tribunal was created and has been conducted in the country with some local judges whilst those in Rwanda and Yugoslavia were conducted abroad with foreign judges.

Concerning the quality of the trial, a foreign newspaper, issued on Sunday, said that although there is be a mix of Cambodian and international judicial officers, the international community is still concerned over the quality of judgments within the court. It has been questioned whether or not the Cambodian officials, both the investigating judges and prosecutors are adequately qualified to search for justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge and whether the people can put their trust in those judges?  These questions are to make sure that the trial will be fair and follow the international standards.

The newspaper also mentioned the names of three Cambodian judges Thorng Ol, Ney Thol, and Ya Sokhan, who have previously allowed themselves to be used as political pawns. Additionally, the newspaper extracted a section from a report by the Center for Social Development which reported that in only 15 % of 1,000 lawsuits in the year 2004 to 2005 witnesses were summoned to give evidence for cases and another 71% of judges issued their decisions after about 30-minute-long trials. In 29% of criminal cases, suspects were tortured during interrogation.

It should be noted that the selection of Cambodian judges and prosecutors to participate in the Khmer Rouge tribunal has sparked controversy amongst political figures, non-governmental organization workers and observers. The general public has suspects that the selection of Cambodian judges and prosecutors for participation in the tribunal is corrupt. It is even more worrying that the judges and prosecutors which are infamous for their corruption within the Phnom Penh municipal court, the Appellate Court and the Supreme Court, were selected by the Cambodian Bar Association.

Some members of civil society organizations said that the fact that Mr. Chiv Keng, chief of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, Mr. Ouk Savuth, a prosecutor of the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and Mr. Thorng Ol, a judge of Phnom Penh Municipal Court, have been selected for the tribunal shows that the selection process was not transparent.

They went on to explain that there is no problem with the judges and prosecutors selected by the UN because they are internationally qualified. The problem is the abilities of the Cambodian judges and prosecutors, who are infamous among the Cambodian people. The international observers have noted an important difference by pointing out that the tribunal for prosecution of the former Khmer Rouge leaders is different from the courts for prosecution of the genocidal crimes that occurred in Rwanda and Yugoslavia.

The Khmer Rouge regime was condemned for brutally killing 1.7 million Cambodian people from 17 April 1975 to 7 January 1979, when tens of tens of thousands of Yuon [Vietnam] soldiers encroached on Cambodian territory. So far, only Ta Mok and Duch have been imprisoned in the military prison for awaited-trials which will be conducted in accordance with the international standards. By contrast, other senior former Khmer Rouge leaders, such as Ieng Sary, Nuon Chea, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan, have been living happily with the assistance of the government.

A number of senior judicial officers said that they believed in the UN’s involvement as it has tried its best to raise millions of dollars to find justice for more than 1.7 million Cambodian people who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. However, they did not trust the Cambodian government because of irregularities in the selection of Cambodian judges and prosecutors for the extraordinary tribunal. Furthermore, because China has recently provided large donation to Cambodia, the Cambodian government may not wish to mention the other countries that backed the Khmer Rouge regime in the tribunal.

The senior judicial officers asserted that the bad reputation of the Cambodian judicial system is undermining the Cambodian people’s confidence in the Khmer Rouge tribunal despite participation of international judges and prosecutors. Therefore, the UN counterpart should deeply consider the independent nature of the tribunal and should not allow US$56 million to be wasted.

Analysts said that the government seems to regard the Khmer Rouge tribunal for the prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leaders as a formality only. Mr. Ang Vong Vathana, the Minister of Justice, acknowledged the abilities of the selected Cambodian judges and prosecutors despite their notorious reputations for corruption.

Extracted from: Samleng Yuvachun Khmer, Vol.13, #2743, Tuesday 09 May 2006          


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