Genocide court for Cambodia

Niko Kyriakou:

The UN member states have pledged the lion’s share of funding needed to launch an international tribunal to prosecute a small number of surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the infamous communist regime responsible for the massacre of an estimated three million Cambodian population in the late 1970s.

Countries pledged $38.4 million, about five million short of the sum the UN agreed. But UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told donor countries the amount exceeded his expectations, and voiced confidence that the UN would be able to raise the balance. “By your generous contributions today you can send a message that however late, and however imperfect,

impunity will not remain unchallenged,” he said.

Annan explained that court proceedings scheduled for mid-2005 could not start until the UN’s full $43-million portion had either been pledged or contributed.

He especially thanked Japan, whose pledge of $21.6 million is just over half of the UN target. France made the second largest pledge of $4.8 million, followed by the UK’s 2.8 million and Australia’s 2.3 million. But in a written statement, Sok An, chairman of the Royal Government Task Force for the Khmer Rouge Trials, asked the international community to also help the Cambodian government cover half of its $13.3-million obligation, meaning that about 12 million in pledges is still needed before work to set up the court can begin.

The US refused to donate, saying it had already given seven million dollars to Cambodia over the last decade for documentation and research for the crimes committed there. The US has been criticised for indirectly fuelling Pol Pot’s rise to power through its bombing of Cambodia in the early 1970’s and for providing CIA support for the Khmer Rouge in the 1980s to fight the Cambodian puppet government installed by North Vietnam at the time. In the 1980s, the US also successfully exerted pressure on the UN to give aid to the Khmer Rouge.

Since 1997, the Cambodian government has sought the UN’s help to create an international tribunal to bring about a dozen living suspects to justice. A Cambodian tribunal was initially set up in 1979 that found both Pol Pot and another Khmer Rouge leader, Ieng Sary, guilty of genocide, but it lacked the muscle to apply those sentences. Until 1998, civil war prevented the establishment of other tribunals. Talks between Cambodia and the UN lasted six years, from 1998 until 2003, before an agreement to set up a tribunal under Cambodian law was finally reached. Only late last year did Cambodia ratify the agreement and establish a budget estimate for the project. One cause of this delay may have been a lack of political will to have the trials.

The model for the court finally agreed upon, called the Extraordinary Chambers (EC), is an affordable hybrid of the wholly international tribunals held at Hague. Mixing mostly Cambodian, but also foreign judges, the EC’s decisions require a majority vote and must include at least one foreign vote. The Human Rights Watch has criticised this arrangement as vulnerable to stalemates.

According to Tara Gutman, a legal consultant for the Cambodian government, there

are also drawbacks to moving the court away from Cambodian influence. Cambodians and the press would be less likely to attend the trial and most there will be language barriers, she says. Neither the International Criminal Court nor the International Court of Justice are options for Cambodia as the former can only hear cases that took place after its genesis in 2002, and the latter only handles disputes between states. — IPS