Wednesday, December 28, 2005

KR Trial and the Question of Funds

Bangkok Post

Wednesday 28 December 2005

The joint Cambodian and United Nations trial of the former Khmer Rouge leaders inches closer with many hoping that it may begin next year. The trial of the leaders of the worst genocide since World War Two is expected to cost $56.3 million, of which the UN sought, and obtained, promises of contributions from many other countries to cover $43 million. Cambodia has now said it needs to find a further $10.8 million of its portion and says it cannot pay this from its budget. Cambodia has slowly stumbled its way along the path towards establishing this tribunal. Its formulating of laws has taken years while visits by UN and other diplomats hoping to push the country along the path quicker have been futile.

Japan is already the major contributor to the trial, with Australia, Canada, Germany and France among the others. A notable absentee is the United States, whose Foreign Operations Appropriations Acts of 2004 prohibits American funding for any tribunal established by the government of Cambodia. The US, though, is the major financier of the famed Documentation Centre of Cambodia which has put together reams of detailed information about the Khmer Rouge regime. Its invested $2 million endowment provides more than half of the centre's annual operational expenses.

In the last half of this year the United Nations has taken deliberate steps forward, ignoring the procrastination of lawmakers in Phnom Penh. It has also overlooked Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's plea for foreign funding to cover his country's portion, moving ahead in the hope that this matter will be resolved later.

Cambodian Sean Visoth, formerly the executive secretary of the government's tribunal task force, has been appointed director of the office of administration of the extraordinary chambers, and China's Michelle Lee, the UN-appointed coordinator, is the deputy director. This month, the UN has been interviewing the 21 applicants who have applied to serve as international judges and prosecutors at the tribunal. According to the Cambodian Daily, those applicants include prominent justices from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the US, Poland, Austria and Egypt. Some appear to have served at previous UN missions: Polish candidate Agnieszka Klonowiecka-Milart and Austrian justice Claudia Fenz in Kosovo, while US Judge Phillip Rapozo served in East Timor.

Cambodia's Supreme Council of the Magistracy must select two international judges for the trial chamber, three for the supreme court chamber and two for the pre-trial chamber, of which one will be a co-investigating judge and one a co-prosecutor. The May 2003 agreement between the UN and the government asserts that the trial judges must be ``of high moral character, impartiality and integrity'', be qualified as judges in their home countries and be experienced in criminal law, international law, international humanitarian law or human rights law. It appears that the UN is putting its jigsaw together and will soon have the pieces ready to fit into place. But yet again, the Cambodian government is proceeding at a crawl.

In late November Phnom Penh government task force adviser Helen Jarvis said the short-list of Cambodian judicial officers would likely be announced in December but we are already at the end of the month with no announcement made.
Internally, opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been pushing the government to fulfil its obligations in regards to the trial but last week he too suffered from the country's judiciary when he was sentenced to 18 months' jail. Now expected to remain in exile in France, Sam Rainsy was found guilty in a trial international observers say was typical of that country's somewhat tainted judiciary and only loosely based on few substantiated facts.

It has been an astute move by the UN to proceed on the assumption that Cambodia will fulfil its contribution pledge. The ex-Khmer Rouge leaders are ageing and justice needs to be done for the sake of all Cambodians as well as human rights sufferers from throughout the world.


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