03/08/2007, 00.00
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How to “save” the Khmer Rouge trials

Cambodians and international judges hold talks on how to avoid the possible collapse of trails against the Khmer Rouge. After a series of delays the aim is to begin procedures before ageing witnesses and accused die.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews) – There is a serious risk that even this year procedures against the surviving leaders of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime will collapse before they get underway. The trials have ground to a halt over procedural differences: foreign judges want full international legal standards, while the Cambodians say local law must take precedence.


After five years of debate, in June 2003, Cambodia and the United Nations agreed to create a tribunal to try those responsible for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979 during the Pol Pot regime. In that period, an estimated 2 million people died in the so called "killing fields".


In May 2006 Cambodia’s highest judicial body nominated 30 judges to preside over the tribunal to try the surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime for genocide.  Minister for Justice Ang Vong Vathana stated that the Magistrates supreme council approved the nomination of 17 Cambodian judges and 13 judges from other nations, indicated by the UN, adding “I hope that the trials will open in the near future”.


For the international judges this morning’s talks, during which over 100 different issues will be discussed, represent the last chance to guarantee that the trials meet with international legal standards.  In a recent statement the tribunal office declared that “all judges are well aware of the importance of the upcoming meeting”.


However, if agreement is not reached the foreign judges intend to ask the United Nations to relive them of their mandate.  But local magistrates continue to insist that Cambodian law must prevail over the special courts and claim that they feel unjustly accused of being the sole cause of continuous delays.    


Speaking to AFP French judge Marcel Lemonde affirmed that “there is really only one point on which the international judges find consensus; these trials must be held soon or not at all”.  Time is the crux of the problem, if the ageing members of the Khmer Rouge are to be brought to justice.


The death of military commander Ta Mok late last year heightened fears that more key defendants and witnesses could die before facing justice. Nicknamed “the butcher” he was imprisoned together with Duch, commander of the centre for interrogation and torture Tuol Sleng in Phnom Penh, on charges of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.  Still today not one single leader of the Khmer Rouge has been tried: Pol Pot died in 1998 and many of his trusted comrades in arms live in Cambodia in complete freedom.  

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