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Selection of trial judges marred by corruption charges

Selection of trial judges marred by corruption charges

Official secrecy and allegations of corruption surrounding the selection of KR

Tribunal judges continues to cast doubt on the court's ability to field a

competent and transparent judiciary.

The Supreme Council of Magistracy

(SCM) will begin selecting Cambodian judges for the tribunal within months, yet

the criteria that will be used to appoint them has not been made public nor have

the names of potential candidates been released.

The secrecy has sparked

concern from trial watchers and many human rights groups.

"Choosing the

judges is most important for the Khmer Rouge Tribunal," said Ouk Vandeth,

director of Legal Aid of Cambodia and member of the Cambodian Human Rights

Action Committee (CHRAC). " ... Cambodian people want to be confident in the

court, so if the names of the judges are secret, what is

transparent?"

Much interest has focussed on the names of 30 judges who

attended one or both two-week training courses held in September 2004 and

April-May this year.

A joint effort between the UN Development Programme,

the KRT taskforce and the Royal School for Judges and Prosecutors, the courses

covered criminal law, humanitarian law, and Cambodian rules of procedure and

evidence.

Though the classes are not officially part of the trial's

mandate, observers expect that Cambodian tribunal judges will be selected from

those attending the courses.

Recent media reports have claimed that three

of the judges thought to be attending training have never completed university.

Another judge allegedly dropped out of the course after being accused of

accepting bribes to illegally release thieves.

NGOs have repeatedly

requested that the UN and the Cambodian government ensure "judges meet

international standards and that they should be selected through an open and

fair appointment process."

"We continue to fear that although Cambodians

fully capable of impartiality exist, few - if any - of these appear likely to be

nominated to the Chambers, and those few who are also likely to be appointed may

be unable to act accordingly to their consciences," stated CHRAC in letter to

the UN Secretary-General in September last year, and reiterated at a press

conference April 25.

While the UN has already received 400 applications

for international judges, there is no indication from the government that a

similar application process may take place in Cambodia, according to

Vandeth.

"How the SCM will choose the judges is a very big question," he

said. "We would like to see and comment on the process - not to interfere - but

to disseminate [information] to the people to show the process is

fair."

Members of the SCM were unavailable to comment on the criteria for

the selection of judges and prosecutors of the KR tribunal.

The

Extraordinary Chambers will operate within the guidelines of Cambodian civil

law, which is based on the legal system used by the French. Three Cambodian and

two international judges will preside over the Trial Court chamber, and four

Cambodian and three international judges will hear any appeals that reach the

Supreme Court chamber. In addition, two co-investigative judges - one Cambodian

and one international - will collect evidence once the two co-prosecutors have

brought charges against the accused.

The same two co-investigative

judges, with the help of assistants, will be responsible for collecting evidence

against all of the accused Khmer Rouge leaders, expected by the UN to be between

five and 10 people.

The UN estimates that the investigation process will

take between 18 months and two years.

Under the proposed schedule set

out by the UN Secretary General in an October 2004 report on the tribunal, the

court proceedings should begin around November 2006

The tribunal budget

of $56.3 million is for a three-year period.

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