[Marxism] Imperialist "Trial" of Khmer Rouge Hits New Snag

Louis R Godena louisgodena at ids.net
Tue Nov 28 05:03:16 MST 2006

One wishes the IBA were half as vigilant in pursuing those who committed 
similar offenses in Indonesia, Vietnam, and Bangladesh, to name just a few.


Khmer Rouge tribunal hits a new snag
By Marwaan Macan-Markar

The long-delayed special tribunal charged with prosecuting the surviving 
leaders of Cambodia's former genocidal Khmer Rouge regime has hit a 
political snag, exposing politically powerful elements in the country that 
strongly oppose the United Nations-sponsored legal proceedings.

The latest influential figure to stand against the trial is Ky Tech, 
president of the Cambodian Bar Association (CBA). Earlier this month he 
demanded that UN-appointed foreign lawyers, who represent 13 of the 30 
judges sitting on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia 
(ECCC), be barred from participating in the hearings. His nationalistic call 
to remove foreign judges from the body intensified last week.

"We are being violated by foreigners," Ky Tech was quoted as having told the 
English-language Cambodian Daily.

Cambodia's legal system is plagued by poorly trained judges, a tragic legacy 
of the Khmer Rouge's ill-conceived drive to kill off the educated classes as 
part of its "Year Zero" policy to turn Cambodia into an agrarian paradise. 
Nowadays, Cambodia's judges lack extensive knowledge of international law, 
particularly in relation to cases involving crimes against humanity.

On Friday, the International Bar Association (IBA) abruptly stopped a 
training program planned for this week to familiarize Cambodian lawyers with 
issues pertinent to crimes against humanity cases - a charge that many 
surviving Khmer Rouge leaders will potentially face during the tribunal.

The CBA issued instructions forbidding lawyers from attending a training 
program planned by the IBA and the ECCC. Ky Tech has publicly threatened 
that "measures" will be taken against any attendee, and against the IBA's 
international participants.

"The bar's actions represent a disturbing development in the functioning of 
international justice, placing obstacles in the path of bringing those 
accused of international crimes to trial," said Mark Ellis, executive 
director of the London-based IBA. "The IBA's program was intended to improve 
the quality of legal services and the administration of justice in Cambodia, 
and help educate and inform the Cambodian public about international 

The IBA has been involved in bolstering underdeveloped legal systems in 
countries across the world that have suddenly faced the daunting task of 
handling war crimes tribunals. The independent body has trained lawyers, 
prosecutors and judges involved in special tribunals dealing with crimes 
against humanity cases in the former Yugoslavia and more recently helped to 
train the judges of the Iraqi High Tribunal.

Given that international record, Ky Tech's objection to the IBA's 
involvement in the Cambodian tribunal has caused speculation among Phnom 
Penh-based observers that he and the CBA may be acting on orders from higher 
political powers. Cambodia's justice system has in the past failed to uphold 
internationally recognized human rights and has frequently been accused by 
international legal observers of being politically pliant.

"The CBA president has become vocal to a degree that it is hard to believe 
that he is saying these things without political backing," Theary Seng, 
executive director of the Center for Social Development (CSD), a 
non-governmental organization, said in a telephone interview from Phnom 
Penh. "It seems to be aimed to either slow the process, or even stall it. 
This is worrying."

Cambodian human-rights groups are likewise alarmed. "There can be some 
political influence behind this statement," Ny Chakrya, a ranking member of 
the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association, a Phnom Penh-based 
non-governmental organization. "Some CBA lawyers work closely with the CPP 
[Cambodian People's Party]. Ky Tech is pro-CPP."

Serial opponent
It is not the first time that Prime Minister Hun Sen has been accused of 
trying to scupper a legal process for which many Cambodian civilians have 
long yearned. The authoritarian government leader has been a serial opponent 
of the special tribunal ever since the United Nations began talks with Phnom 
Penh about creating the ECCC in 1997.

Hun Sen - himself a former junior-level Khmer Rouge cadre - has repeatedly 
warned that the proceedings could cause panic among Khmer Rouge supporters 
and reignite the civil war that ravaged the country throughout the 1980s and 
into the 1990s. Although Hun Sen has frequently criticized former Khmer 
Rouge leaders for their alleged role in past atrocities, at the same time he 
has provided sanctuary in his government for some of the Maoist group's most 
senior members.

Hun Sen has repeatedly backtracked on earlier commitments related to the 
tribunal, and recently reneged on providing Cambodia's US$13.3 million share 
of the $56.3 million total budget for the trial. Western donors, including 
the United States, who contribute around half of his government's annual 
budget and have applied pressure in support of the tribunal, have recently 
agreed to pony up $9.6 million for Phnom Penh's share.

In May, Hun Sen lashed out at human-rights groups which called into question 
his government's choice of judges to sit on the tribunal, which unlike the 
ones for Rwanda and former Yugoslavia, includes a combination of local and 
international jurists. That mixed composition was the result of years of 
negotiations between Hun Sen and the United Nations.

Human rights groups were particularly peeved by the choice of Ney Thol, an 
army general and president of Cambodia's military court, for the ECCC. They 
say he has a record of denying the right of lawyers for the accused to call 
their own witnesses and to cross-examine the prosecution's witnesses.

More significantly, perhaps, is the question of whether Hun Sen will be 
dragged into the tribunal's proceedings, which formally got underway this 
year after years of delay. He was a member of the Khmer Rouge until he 
defected to join forces with the Vietnamese troops that drove Pol Pot, the 
leader of that brutal regime, from power in 1979.

During the Khmer Rouge's 1975-79 reign of terror, it was responsible for the 
deaths of close to 1.7 million people, nearly a quarter of the poor 
Southeast Asian country's total population at that time. Victims were either 
executed or died as a result of forced labor or famine.

Pol Pot died in 1998, but other leaders of the regime are either languishing 
in detention or sitting in government. Kaing Khek Eav, also known as Duch, 
presided over the notorious Toul Sleng interrogation center in Phnom Penh 
where an estimated 14,000 people were killed. He is currently in prison. 
Senior Khmer Rouge cadres Ieng Sary and Khieu Samphan, meanwhile, hold 
official posts in Hun Sen's administration. Both former leaders have claimed 
innocence, but would likely be targeted during the tribunal, assuming it 
goes ahead.

(Inter Press Service with additional reporting by Asia Times Online)

More information about the Marxism mailing list