By KER MUNTHIT
ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER
Monday, May 22, 2006 · Last updated 1:22 a.m. PT
This past week, King Norodom Sihamoni approved the appointment of 30 Cambodian and U.N.-chosen foreign judicial officials, and there are now hopes that trials can begin early next year for surviving Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide and crimes against humanity.
But some critics are worried because
The foreign jurists come from
The resumes of the Cambodian judges are threadbare by comparison, and their reputations shaky.
Their appointment "tarnishes right from the start the image of that tribunal, and because of that, it would lack public confidence and trust," said Lao Monghay, a Cambodian legal analyst working with the Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commission.
Little information is available about the Cambodian judges other than the fact that most received law degrees in the former Soviet communist bloc - places such as
One tribunal judge, army general Ney Thol, is president of the military court and member of the central committee of Prime Minister Hun Sen's ruling Cambodian People's Party. He is best known for presiding at two major trials where Hun Sen's political opponents were convicted of national security-related crimes.
In 1998, Ney Thol sentenced Prince Norodom Ranariddh, leader of the royalist Funcinpec party, to 30 years in prison for weapons smuggling and conspiring with outlawed Khmer Rouge guerrillas. The trial was prompted mainly by Hun Sen's desire to neuter his main political rival, whom he had already ousted from his position as co-prime minister in a 1997 coup.
Last August, Ney Thol sentenced opposition lawmaker Cheam Channy to seven years in prison for trying to form an armed group to topple the government in another trial widely regarded as politically motivated. He was criticized for his conduct in the trial, during which he barred the defense from calling witnesses and from fully cross-examining prosecution witnesses.
Both opposition leaders were later freed by royal pardons.
Ney Thol said having been a judge since 1987 qualifies him for the Khmer Rouge tribunal. "I have gone through many short courses (of legal training) inside and outside the country," he said. "I am honored to be one of the appointees."
Another tribunal judge, Thou Mony, once overturned a lower court's guilty ruling against Hun Sen's nephew, who had been involved in a shooting spree in 2003 in which two people were killed and two others wounded.
"I am very proud to have been appointed," said the Cambodian appeals court judge, who was educated at the
David Scheffer, a former
"If the performance of the judges begins to be called into question in a way that goes to the issue of their integrity, their independence ... then you can imagine at some point the United Nations would take a serious look at that in terms of their continued participation in the process," said Scheffer, now a visiting law professor at Northwestern University.
The government projects a shaky confidence in its judges.