Monday, July 10, 2006

Backgrounder: Cambodia's Extraordinary Chambers for trial of former DK leaders

Cambodian and international judges for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia ( ECCC) were sworn in on Monday in the Royal Palace, marking the beginning of the trial process for senior leaders of the former Democratic Kampuchea.

After the judges' swearing-in, it will enter the entire investigation phase which is expected to last for three to six months, with formal trials expected to begin in mid-2007. The trials will take place in a military compound in the town of kambol, 15 km west of Phnom Penh.

Following is the background of the tribunal:

The DK regime took power on April 17, 1975 and was overthrown on Jan. 7, 1979, then followed by a civil war. That war finally ended in 1998, when the DK political and military structure were dismantled.

In 1997, Cambodia first approached the United Nations for assistance in establishing a trial to prosecute the senior leaders of the DK.

Since the civil war ended in 1998, the royal government and the United Nations have worked together towards implementing a new type of mixed national-international tribunal. But it took about six years to work out the details of this new style of court -- ECCC in 2003, due to the issues of financing and jurisdiction of the court.

The court has a trial chamber and a Supreme Court Chamber. Under the agreement reached by Cambodia and the United Nations, Cambodian judges will have a majority in each chamber but cannot make a ruling without the consent of at least one foreign judge.

On May 7, 2006, Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni approved 30 Cambodian and UN judges and prosecutors selected and nominated respectively by the Cambodian Supreme Council of the Magistracy and the UN Secretary-General.

The Cambodian government and the United Nations decided that the court should limit prosecutions to the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea who planned or gave orders, as well as those most responsible for committing serious crimes. It is expected that only a small number of people will fall within this limit and be tried.

The court will have the responsibility to decided exactly who was a "senior leader" and who was "most responsible" for the crimes committed by the DK during its rule between April 17, 1975 and Jan. 6, 1979 and was charged with genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Since the death penalty is unconstitutional in Cambodia, the maximum sentence is life in prison and the minimum sentence is five years in prison.

The trial's total cost is estimated at 56.3 million U.S. dollars, and it is expected to run for three years. The United Nations announced it had collected enough funds to pay for the international community's 43 million dollars share. While Cambodia 's share is mostly donated by the international community.

At least three former DK senior leaders are still alive -- Noun Chea, the DK's "Number Two" leader, Ieng Sary, its deputy prime minister and foreign minister, and Khieu Samphan, its head of state. They now still live freely in Cambodia.

Ieng Sary defected to the government in 1996 along with thousands of troops and was subsequently granted amnesty by then king Norodam Sihanouk, while Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan defected to the government in December 1998.

DK chief Pol Pot died in 1998 and the movement collapsed the following year. Only two former DK senior officials now are in detention. One is Ta Mok, 82, suffering various illnesses, and the other is Kaing Khek Iev, also known as Duch, who headed the DK's S- 21 prison in the capital of Phnom Penh.

"Today marks the beginning of the three-year judicial process. With the arrival of the international prosecutor we have reached our first milestone," said Michelle Lee, deputy director of the ECCC.

Source: Xinhua

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