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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Will KR trial find genuine redress for crimes?

Will KR trial find genuine redress for crimes?

On the 30th anniversary of the Khmer Rouge entry into Phnom Penh, the possibility

of a Tribunal to render Khmer Rouge leaders accountable for their crimes seems very

close. Most of us want to see justice done. I feel it is necessary, however, to raise

some questions about the nature of that proposed tribunal and the possibility of

redress it presents. For the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT) to be effective it must be

credible, impartial and transparent. How is this possible under current Cambodian

legal and judicial conditions?

First, under what laws will people be tried? Although there is a special law on the

organisation of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, the tribunal has to use existing Cambodian

law for the trial procedure. While UNTAC laws remain in use, there is still no Cambodian

Penal Code, Civil Code or Code of Criminal Procedure. There are no statutes for judges

or prosecutors to deal with any problems related to ethics or conflicts of interest

that might arise during the trials. There are no laws to protect Cambodians against

corruption, environmental destruction, internal displacement, domestic violence and

many other conditions.

The law on the KRT provides for international law to be used where Cambodian law

is unavailable or inadequate. But questions arise as to how effectively this can

be done when existing laws often remain unenforced and unenforceable. Corruption

and impunity pervade the legal and judicial systems. Private restitution and mob

violence replace legal and judicial action as the primary means of social redress.

Who is going to be tried? The KRT will decide who among the Khmer Rouge will be called

to account. But how will it be possible for the Tribunal to override existing political

decisions favoring immunity for some Khmer Rouge leaders? Will it be possible to

prevent people from being prosecuted for political reasons? And will the KRT be more

effective in finding people for trial than the government has been in capturing Chhouk


Because disparities in power play a major role in Cambodian judicial processes the

question of protection for those wishing to testify is urgent. How can the poor testify

against people whose power stretches far beyond themselves into the community? How

can their safety and the safety of their families be even minimally guaranteed? Will

it be only expatriate Cambodians who are willing to testify and what does that mean

for the Cambodian public if it is the case?

In 1999 some 84,195 Cambodians signed the Human Rights Action Committee petition

to the UN for an internationally led KRT. By doing so, they expressed their hopes

that an international tribunal would help find genuine redress for the atrocities

that took place here from 1975-79. Although the proposed KRT is a mixed court rather

than a purely international one, I hope that it will find a way, despite all the

difficulties it is bound to encounter, to answer their hopes and trust.



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