Insights and Analysis

In Cambodia: Khmer Rouge Tribunals — Progress & Hindrance

March 21, 2007

By Jennifer Yip, Roderick Brazier

Amid the charm of easy-paced Phnom Penh, with its riverside cafes and French architecture, it is jarring to learn that former senior Khmer Rouge officials ” mass murderers ” live in some of the city’s many comfortable villas. Some even take morning strolls in the tree-lined parks. Outside Phnom Penh, and especially in former Khmer Rouge strongholds in the north and west of the country, some former Khmers Rouge officials occupy positions in provincial and district government.

For many Cambodians, mental peace can only truly come with punishment of the leaders of the murderous regime. Sadly, the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which was supposed to prosecute the masterminds of the genocide, is mired in quarrels over procedures. Powerful actors with much to lose from an open airing of the crimes of that period are impeding the tribunal’s progress.

There has, though, been an agreement on the internal rules of the trial — which has, to date, been a major sticking point. On March 16th, international and Cambodian judges agreed on a draft for the internal rules of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to govern the proceedings of the Khmer Rouge trials. Negotiations addressed Cambodian concerns about the protection of national sovereignty and eased United Nations fears about the risk of political interference in the trials. An agreement was reached to allow foreign defense lawyers to participate in the trials, with the provision that they are a part of a team that contains at least one Cambodian lawyer. Few other details of the negotiations have been released.

But, a successful prosecution of even one former leader appears to still be a distant prospect. Other barriers are being erected to further delay trials. The latest of these barriers has been the decision of Cambodia’s Bar Association (BAKC) to impose high fees on the participation of foreign lawyers. BAKC announced its plans to charge international lawyers US$2,000 to work in Cambodia. National judges regard this issue as outside the scope of the internal rules and therefore not an obstacle to proceeding with the plenary meeting. International judges cite this decision as “unacceptable” because it “severely limits the rights of accused and victims to select counsel of their choice.” Four international judges have already threatened to boycott the plenary meeting in April to formally approve the internal rules if the fee dispute is not resolved. If international lawyers are successfully deterred from participating in the trials, the greatest concern is that defendants will be denied a fair trial.

Roderick Brazier is The Asia Foundation’s Country Representative in Cambodia.

Related locations: Cambodia



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