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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Questions linger about KR tribunal after UN visit

Questions linger about KR tribunal after UN visit

The Khmer Rouge tribunal moved a step closer to reality this month following the

visit by UN officials to thrash out details of how the Extraordinary Chambers are

to be run.

Chief of the UN team, Karsten Herrel described the discussions on December 8-12 as

an "assessment mission" and said much had been achieved.

Negotiators agreed upon "a common concept of operations" such as the process

of appointing judges and prosecutors, a rough timetable and the integration of international

and Cambodian staff.

The trial court will consist of three Cambodian judges and two international judges.

An appeal court will be made up of four Cambodian judges and three international

judges.

But critics pointed out that unresolved issues such as funding and the involvement

of Cambodian judiciary, with a reputation for corruption, threaten the trials' success.

Many believe that some Cambodian judges are simply not up to the task. That point

was acknowledged by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in his March report to the General

Assembly.

"There still remains some doubt in some quarters regarding the credibility of

the Extraordinary Chambers given the precarious state of the judiciary in Cambodia,"

he said. "It is, however, the hope of the Secretary-General that the government,

in the implementation of the agreement, would carry out fully the obligations that

it would assume."

NGO Human Rights Watch also agreed that a judiciary appointed by the UN was more

likely to be objective. But for now, a spokesman said, the organization is adopting

a "wait and see" attitude.

"It will be very revealing which judges will be chosen, both Cambodian and internationally,"

said the spokesman. "That will be the key issue...We will push for it to be

as good as it can be given the huge limitations of the task."

But Helen Jarvis, an advisor with the Council of Ministers, believes that a strong

Cambodian presence on the tribunal is

essential.

"I think it would not be appropriate to hold the trials without Cambodia. I

think that justice should be dispensed by the people who have some relationship to

the context of the crimes that were committed."

Jarvis pointed out that legal mechanisms such as the need for a super-majority, where

an international judge must agree to a conviction, and the ability of the UN to pull

out if they think the process is failing will help ensure a just result.

"The Cambodian government has long recognized the weakness of the judiciary

and it's precisely for that reason that they have invited international assistance

to help meet internationally accepted standards," she said.

"There have been checks and balances built in to the legislation that should

help to get a satisfactory outcome."

She believes the assumption that the international staff on the tribunal will be

perfect and the Cambodians flawed is also unfair. There have been accusations of

mismanagement and nepotism in the UN trials for the Rwandan genocide. Problems with

that trial, including a growing $1 billion price tag, have also raised concerns about

how much the Khmer Rouge tribunal might cost.

A budget is not finalized, but Cambodia has committed to paying about half of the

estimated $40 million needed to fund the trials. Secretary of State at the Ministry

of Justice, Ang Vong Wattana, offered one possible source for Cambodia's share: other

countries.

Wattana announced on December 12 that Cambodia would seek assistance from bilateral

donors to cover their share of the cost.

"The budget will be a heavy burden for the Royal Government of Cambodia,"

he said. "We will try as much as we can to contribute to the extraordinary chambers...Frankly

speaking, we are short of money."

Raising Cambodia's share presents a challenge. Besides competing for funds with other

international war crimes tribunals, donor countries are effectively being asked to

contribute twice - both by the UN and Cambodia.

"Frankly speaking, I'm a little bit skeptical about the tribunal. I don't think

that this process will come to a positive result quickly."

The question of whether such hefty demands for assistance will cut into Cambodia's

international aid budget remains unclear.

Whether the tribunal can even manage to stick to such a conservative budget has been

widely questioned. The cost of the trials in Rwanda over the last two years was $178

million.

But Jarvis said that speculation about funding is premature.

"I don't think it's sensible to denounce it yet. That was a preliminary budget

for discussion - it's just an attempt to work it through."

She said the costs would be high because of UN involvement. The salaries for UN judges

and officials and ancillary costs such as per-diems and medical insurance will make

the tribunal an expensive exercise.

Whether Cambodian judges will be paid the same salaries remains to be decided.

Kek Galabru, president of human rights organization LICADHO, said the pay disparity

between international and national judges, as well as the skills gap, could make

it difficult for the parties to work together.

"Frankly speaking, I'm a little bit skeptical about the tribunal. I don't think

that this process will come to a positive result quickly. In the mean time, many

of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge will die. It's hopeless, I think."

But a spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Saku

Akmeemana, said the tribunal is an important process for Cambodia.

"These days, countries emerging from a period of protracted conflict must be

seen to be dealing with their past, with serious human rights violations."

She said it was hoped that the processes of the tribunal will have a ripple effect

on other legal systems and help discourage impunity.

"The irony of modern day impunity will be clearer against the backdrop of holding

accountable those accused of committing crimes a quarter of a decade ago," she

said.

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