Friday, July 28, 2006

Killing fields justice

As Cambodia prepares to try two key Khmer Rouge leaders for war crimes, international ambivalence abounds



by SAMER ELATRASH

Inside the Khmer Pagoda in Côte-des-Neiges, head monk Hok Savann sits wrapped in a saffron robe before a large statue of the Buddha, mulling over the newly inaugurated war crimes tribunal in Cambodia. A monk next to him impassively watches a newscast from a Cambodian satellite television station, occasionally interrupting to help his senior find the right wording for an answer.

Neither of the two had visited Cambodia in three decades. Savann left in 1975 when the Khmer Rouge, a movement inspired by a mixture of nationalism and Maoism, captured the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh and plunged the country into four years of terror. Today, in another pagoda a 10 miles south of Phnom Penh, thousands of skulls, shattered by pickaxes and clubs, which spared the frugal Khmer Rouge genocidaires from using bullets, are arranged in a memorial to the victims.

Sunlight pours into the pagoda through the windows, and Savann shifts in his seat when asked whether he’d return to Cambodia. “There is no respect for the law there, there is no security,” he says. “The government does not believe in human rights.”

Bloody legacy

Cambodia has seen little security in the past decades. Before 1975, which Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot declared Year Zero, the country suffered a civil war and a U.S. bombing campaign that killed an estimated 200,000 civilians after emerging from decades of French and Japanese colonial rule. The weakened, traumatized country became a laboratory for the French-educated leaders of the Khmer Rouge, who emptied the cities and forced millions onto rural communes. Between 1.5 million and three million Cambodians were executed or died of starvation before Vietnam invaded the country in late 1978 and routed the Khmer Rouge the next year.

Leaders of the movement now face the possibility of trial for genocide and crimes against humanity after a United Nations and Cambodian war crimes tribunal, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), convened in Phnom Penh earlier this month. Like most Cambodians, Savann lost relatives in the genocide, and although he’s “satisfied” at the prospect of justice, he says it may have come too late.

Pol Pot died in 1998 under house arrest, his remains burnt on rubber tires and a mattress. Last weekend, Ta Mok, another Khmer Rouge leader known in Cambodia as “The Butcher,” died in a Cambodian military hospital. Ta Mok was one of two Khmer leaders detained by the government for war crimes.

“[Khmer Rouge] leaders are very old, and very sick,” says Savann. Still, “Cambodians are happy” some officials will be held accountable. “[The trials] will help young Cambodians to know their history.”

Concordia professor Frank Chalk, who directs the Montreal Institute for Genocide Studies, agrees. “Right now, there is a generation of young people who never learned why their parents wake up with nightmares,” he says. “They don’t understand the trauma of what their parents and grandparents experienced.”

Chalk, who is visiting Cambodia again this summer, has been campaigning for more than a decade to have the genocide taught more thoroughly in Cambodian schools. He says the trials should encourage more discussion between generations on the genocide.

Chalk points to plans by the Documentation Center of Cambodia to bring in elders from the countryside to observe the trials, and then go back to their communities and recount what had happened. The CCD also plans to tape the proceedings and distribute cassettes to Cambodians who couldn’t attend the trials.

Politicized proceedings

Trial proceedings have barely begun—prosecutors will spend this year building cases for indictments—but the arrangements have already come under criticism. The ECCC is the result of a decade of wrangling between the UN and Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, who asked that the tribunal act within Cambodian law, and that 17 of the 27 judges be Cambodian. Critics say the Cambodian judges are employees of the state who might overrule indictments based on politics.

With a budget of $56.3-million (U.S.), the ECCC is the lowest-funded trial of its kind, but Hun Sen, whose country lost hundreds of millions of dollars last year to corruption, says his government cannot afford its share of the costs, while international donors have yet to fully donate their shares.

Montrealer and leading ECCC prosecutor Robert Petit says whatever faults the tribunal might have, it’s better than having no trials.

“Whatever the shortcomings, this is it,” he tells the Mirror. “We have what we have. This is the only chance for accountability for these war crimes.”

Although the Cambodian government needed coaxing to sign the agreement to hold a tribunal, and is refusing to pay its share of the costs, Petit says, “The important thing is that they signed the agreement.”

Pol Pot’s friends

The proceedings, and the choice of Khmer Rouge officials who will be indicted, will be followed closely by several countries that had stakes in Cambodia, says Chalk. “Nobody has clean hands in this,” he says.

The prime minister himself was a member of the Khmer Rouge before he defected to Vietnam in 1977, when the Cambodian government purged members seen as loyal to Vietnam. Following the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, the Khmer Rouge became the backbone of opposition forces bases in Thailand, fighting over the next decade to dislodge the Vietnamese-installed government.

The coalition attracted the support of several countries opposed to Vietnamese influence in Cambodia, including China, the U.S. and Britain—which gave training to what then-U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher called the “more reasonable” Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge finally disbanded in 1998, and some of its officials ended up in Sen’s government. Since defecting, Sen has repeatedly condemned the Khmer Rouge, but has also questioned whether prosecuting them might open rifts in Cambodian society, saying that Cambodia “should dig a hole and bury the past.”

However, a survey conducted by the Khmer Institute for Democracy, a Cambodian non-governmental organization, shows more than 90 per cent of the population favour the prosecution of the movement’s war criminals. Eighty-nine per cent of the poll respondents said they constantly thought of the genocide.

“I think [the tribunal] is late,” says Savann. “But I’d like to see justice.”

Friday, July 21, 2006

Cambodia's former king questions necessity of Khmer Rouge tribunal

Cambodia's former king said a U.N.-backed tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders will cost too much money and questioned whether it was worth it since the aging officials could die before a verdict.

Former King Norodom Sihanouk said some consider the tribunal to be ''necessary, indispensable and beneficial'' because it will bring the surviving leaders to justice and help victims find peace.

But Sihanouk, 83, said he believes the cost of the ''super luxurious life of the judges'' of the tribunal could easily exceed the US$56 million (euro45 million) budgeted for the trials.

Also, by the time a verdict is reached, ''there will probably be only one or two ... living Khmer Rouge leaders,'' he said in a letter dated July 15 posted on his Web site.

The former monarch said last week that he opposed the tribunal because it will target too few of those responsible for the group's extremist policies, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during its 1975-79 rule.

Earlier this month, judges and prosecutors from Cambodia and abroad were sworn in for the long-awaited U.N.-backed trials of the former Khmer Rouge leaders on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.

Prosecutors have begun gathering evidence for the trials, expected to begin in 2007.

Sihanouk stepped down as king and was replaced by his son, Norodom Sihamoni, in 2004. He is widely respected, but his opinion is unlikely to affect trial preparations.

The Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979 by invading Vietnamese forces. In 1982, Sihanouk became president of a Western-backed coalition government in exile that included the Khmer Rouge and fought the Vietnamese-installed government until a 1991 U.N.-sponsored peace agreement.

Sihanouk also said in his letter that he doesn't think the tribunal would ease the suffering of the regime's victims.

He said he objected to genocide memorials that display victims' skulls and bones, an apparent reference to a site often called the ''Killing Fields'' just outside the capital, Phnom Penh.

At least 14,000 Khmer Rouge victims were buried at the site, which is frequented by foreign tourists.

Sihanouk said that exhibiting the skulls and bones was done ''for the pleasure of tourists,'' and did nothing for the ''wandering souls'' of those killed, and that their bones should be cremated in accordance with Buddhist custom.

Ta Mok, 80; Key Figure in Cambodian Genocide

By David Lamb, Special to The Times
July 21, 2006

Ta Mok, a Khmer Rouge leader who played a key role in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians in the 1970s, died early today in a Phnom Penh military hospital, where he was awaiting trial on genocide charges.

A frail, white-haired man, Ta Mok was believed to be 80. He maintained to the end that he bore no responsibility for Cambodia's "killing fields" and that other Khmer Rouge commanders had been the architects and perpetrators of the genocide.
But for years Ta Mok, a nom de guerre, was a feared name in Cambodia. As the second in command of the Khmer Rouge, he and his followers were linked to the elimination of entire villages, to forced labor camps, to mass executions and to torture chambers. Cambodians called him "The Butcher." The prime minister, Hun Sen, referred to him as the "Hitler of Cambodia."

Although little is known about his personal life, Ta Mok, whose real name was Chhit Choen, was born into a peasant family in the southern province of Takeo.

Like many poor young Cambodians in the 1930s, he became a Buddhist monk, because pagodas offered food and shelter. He left the monkhood at 16 and in the 1940s joined the resistance movement against the French colonialists.

Unlike other senior Khmer Rouge leaders, such as Pol Pot, Ta Mok never studied abroad and had little use for intellectual issues. He was more comfortable in the jungle than in the city.

His sole ideology was Cambodian nationalism, and he only vaguely grasped the concepts of communism that were the foundation of the Khmer Rouge's ultra-Maoist revolution.

"When I joined the Communist Party of Cambodia," he told Nate Thayer of the Far Eastern Economic Review in a 1997 interview, "I did not know what communism was. They told me the party was a patriotic one. That is why I joined the party."

He also told Thayer that his motivation for becoming a guerrilla was to secure a better life for Cambodian peasants and to free the country from Vietnamese domination.

The Khmer Rouge came to power in April 1975 after defeating the U.S.-backed government of Lon Nol. During the 44 months it ruled Cambodia — until deposed in 1979 by invading Vietnamese troops — the Khmer Rouge killed one in every six Cambodians, including much of the middle class, in the name of creating a pure agrarian society free of foreign influence.

After Vietnam's invasion, Ta Mok, who was Pol Pot's top lieutenant, fled into the jungle to carry on the guerrilla war, first against Vietnam, then against the new Cambodian government.

He conducted ruthless purges of the Khmer Rouge's suspected enemies and set up a fiefdom in the northern town of Anlong Veng. U.N. peacekeepers in 1993 blamed him for the slaughter of ethnic Vietnamese, including many women and babies, in a fishing village on the Great Lake.

In 1997, Ta Mok took control of the Khmer Rouge from Pol Pot in a bloody purge. But by then, the movement was dying. Defectors by the hundreds had surrendered their weapons in exchange for a government offer of amnesty.

Pol Pot died in the northern jungle in April 1998, an apparent suicide.

Ta Mok was arrested in March 1999 crossing into northern Cambodia from Thailand and charged with genocide under a law banning the Khmer Rouge.

Over the last few years, Ta Mok's lawyer said, his client was in declining health after suffering a heart attack.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Former Khmer Rouge Leader Leaves Home

By SOPHENG CHEANG
The Associated Press
Tuesday, July 11, 2006; 6:20 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia -- The former Khmer Rouge head of state left his home in the middle of the night in a pickup truck piled high with his belongings Tuesday, a neighbor said, a day after prosecutors began collecting evidence for the long-awaited trials of the regime's ex-leaders.

Khieu Samphan, 75, is among the handful of Khmer Rouge members expected to be prosecuted for atrocities committed during their reign of terror in the 1970s. It was not immediately clear whether he had absconded in an effort to avoid prosecution.
A tribunal spokesman, Reach Sambath, said court officials were not aware that he had left his home and were unable to comment.

Khieu Samphan's daughter, Khieu Rattana, said that he and his wife left their home in Pailin, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in northwestern Cambodia, to spend about two weeks visiting a friend in Battambang province, about 55 miles to the east.

She declined to say exactly where in Battambang he was going.

A neighbor, however, said the couple told him they expected to be gone for longer.
They packed numerous household items, including pots, a portable gas cooker, a small table and sofa, groceries and clothes, the neighbor said on condition of anonymity, fearing for his safety in an area still inhabited by former Khmer Rouge fighters.

The neighbor said he helped the couple pack for their trip and Khieu Samphan's wife said they were leaving for about "two or three months." As they packed the belongings into a pickup truck Monday evening, Khieu Samphan was listening to a radio broadcast about the progress being made in preparing the U.N.-backed trials to try the regime's ex-leaders.

The couple left their home in the middle of the night, he said.

Prosecutors on Monday began gathering evidence for the trial, which is expected to begin in 2007. It remains unclear how many of the former leaders will be brought to trial.

Khieu Rattana dismissed speculation that her father was trying to flee. She said he knows he cannot escape.
"If they want to catch him, they can still do that no matter where he tries to run," she said by phone from the capital Phnom Penh where she lives and works.

Khieu Samphan was the head of state of the Khmer Rouge regime, whose reign of terror between 1975-79 left some 1.7 million people dead from starvation, disease, overwork and execution.

He has lived in Pailin since 1999. Other ex-Khmer Rouge leaders who live nearby are Nuon Chea, chief Khmer Rouge ideologue, and Ieng Sary, the regime's former foreign minister. All are expected to be called as defendants at the upcoming genocide trial.

Ieng Sary and his wife live in Cambodia, moving between houses in Pailin, Phnom Penh and Malai, another former Khmer Rouge stronghold in the northwest, said their daughter, Ieng Vichida.

"They are not going anywhere," she said. "They are old, and their state of health is up and down everyday."
Many fear that aging Khmer Rouge leaders may die before they can stand trial.

A 2003 agreement between Cambodia and the United Nations said the tribunal was aimed at prosecuting "senior leaders" of the Khmer Rouge and those most responsible for the crimes committed during its reign.

Pol Pot, the late leader of Khmer Rouge, died in 1998.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Chasing Cambodia's Ghosts

A Canadian prosecutor seeks justice before Cambodia's newly-formed genocide tribunal


Monday, Jul. 10, 2006
The swearing-in on July 3 of 25 genocide-tribunal judges and prosecutors was a historic step toward justice for the estimated 1.7 million Cambodians killed under the Khmer Rouge. But the real work starts this week, when U.N. co-prosecutor Robert Petit begins building a case against those responsible for the atrocities committed during the group's 1975-79 reign.

Petit, an intense, 44-year-old Canadian, is a U.N. veteran who has worked in Rwanda, East Timor, Sierra Leone and Kosovo. "I never wanted to be anything else but a prosecutor," he says. "Someone has to stand up for those who can't—or weren't able to." In Cambodia, that challenge is unique. Petit and his Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang must build their case concerning crimes committed more than a quarter of a century ago. Of all the war crimes he has dealt with, "this is the longest elapsed time between the acts and accountability," says Petit. "It presents issues with the state of memory and the state of documents ... There is the issue of the age of the perpetrators as well." Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998; his surviving lieutenants, in their 70s and 80s, may not live to be sentenced.

There also could be political obstacles. The question of who can be called as a witness—and possibly give embarrassing testimony about former Khmer Rouge members still in government—is acutely sensitive. Officials have also said that only a handful of the most senior Khmer Rouge leaders would stand trial. But under the tribunal's laws, says Petit, the prosecution has a mandate to target "senior leaders and those most responsible"—and he's putting the emphasis on those most responsible. "The idea of these tribunals is that ... if you do certain things you will be held accountable," he says. "It is making a statement about humanity, about who we are or maybe even who we want to be—which might be more important."

Cambodian retired king opposes DK tribunal, calling on saving money for poor

Cambodian retired King Norodom Sihanouk announced that he opposes the newly inaugurated Democratic Kampuchea (DK) tribunal, saying it will only try a handful of those responsible for the regime and that its budget would be better spent on alleviating poverty, local media reported on Monday.

While the tribunal is intended to try a handful of "old, sickly unrepentant individuals," the true number of those responsible was in the hundreds if not thousands, The Cambodia Daily quoted former king's message in French dated Thursday and posted to his web site as saying.

"To be frank and call a spade a spade. I am against the special Tribunal that has been established in Cambodia to try five or six Khmer Rouge individuals," he wrote.

The budget for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which stands at over 56 million U.S. dollars, would be best used developing Cambodia, he added.

"With the tens of millions of U.S. dollars reserved for the ' trial'," he said, "one could provide immensely beneficial services to the Little People by offering them mechanical devices for their 'Water Policy', machines for agriculture, land of which they are dispossessed, decent living quarters, plows, cattle...and other things to take them from their misery."

However, Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath noted that the tribunal's budget was far less than those of either the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda or the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

The Cambodian tribunal is expected to indict between five and 10 individuals, although prosecutors and investigating judges would be able to bring charges against more, according to Sambath.

Source: Xinhua

Judges in Cambodia prepare for Khmer Rouge hearings

A group of Cambodian and international judges have begun preparations to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge.

The communist government of the second half of the 1970s has been blamed for the deaths of up to two million people.

Sworn in on Monday, the 17 Cambodian and 10 foreign jurists have met behind closed doors for the first of four days of discussions about the objectives of the tribunal, which is expected to last three years.

Next week, two prosecutors, one Cambodian and one foreign, will begin investigating the regime, and will decide which former senior members of the Khmer Rouge regime should face trial.

Investigations are expected to last three to six months, with trials beginning in mid-2007.

Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal judges arrive in Cambodia

[JURIST] Foreign judges who will preside over the trial of former Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive] leaders arrived in Cambodia on Sunday in preparation for the genocide tribunal [task force official website; timeline] that is slated to begin proceedings [JURIST report] in mid-2007. The judges, who hail from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Poland, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, and the US, will be on hand during the three to six month investigation period of the tribunal, except for three reserve judges who will arrive later. The judges, formally appointed [JURIST report] in May as part of a team of 30 Cambodian and international jurists, some of whom are acting as prosecutors, will be sworn in Monday after they visit the military compound in Kambol where the trials will be held.

Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile], an indicted former Khmer Rouge military chief, was hospitalized [JURIST report] on Thursday and Friday demanded a swift trial [JURIST report] Friday so he can "explain" who is responsible for the massacre of 1.7 million people during the Khmer Rouge 1975-78 rule over Cambodia. The deteriorating health of several former Khmer Rouge leaders prompted the United Nations to urge the tribunal to begin proceedings as soon as possible [JURIST report]

Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal judges sworn in at Cambodia royal palace

Andrew Wood at 10:21 AM ET

[JURIST] Seventeen Cambodian judges and 10 others from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, Poland, Sri Lanka, the Netherlands, and the US who will serve on the Khmer Rouge genocide tribunal [official task force website; timeline] were sworn in Monday in a symbolic ceremony at Phnom Penh's Silver Pagoda in the royal palace. The tribunal, which will prosecute former leaders of the Khmer Rouge [JURIST news archive], is expected to begin holding trials by mid-2007 and last for three years. Judges and prosecutors were selected [JURIST report] in May, but Youk Chhang, director of the Document Center of Cambodia (DC-CAM) [advocacy website], which has been collecting evidence against the Khmer Rouge and preparing for the trials since 1995, noted that Monday's ceremony formally establishes the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

The deteriorating health of many surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge, which ruled over Cambodia from 1975-1978, has prompted the UN to call for their trials to begin as soon as possible [JURIST report]. Ta Mok [Trial Watch profile], the former Khmer Rouge military chief, was hospitalized [JURIST report] last week and former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary [Wikipedia profile] was hospitalized due to a heart condition [JURIST report] earlier this year. Former Khmer Rouge health minister Thiounn Thioeunn [DC-CAM profile] died in June.

Cambodia tribunal will set fate of Khmer Rouge leaders

The Associated Press
PHNOM PENH, CAMBODIA (Jul 5, 2006)

Judges and prosecutors for a UN-backed tribunal in Cambodia began drawing up plans yesterday to try former Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.

The Cambodian and foreign judicial officials started four days of discussions on holding the trials, expected to start in 2007, said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal's administration office.

The swearing-in on Monday of 17 Cambodian and 10 UN-appointed foreign jurists was a major step toward seeking justice for the victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Its policies in the late 1970s are blamed for an estimated 1.7 million deaths.

"They will be discussing prosecutorial and judicial planning, and their code of ethics," Sambath said.

The foreign jurists will be studying Cambodian traditions and the laws under which the tribunal was established. Their Cambodian counterparts will learn about international laws and other genocide tribunals.

Nicolas Michel, UN under-secretary-general for legal affairs, called the swearing-in "a historic landmark," but also said it was "just the beginning" step toward justice.

"There will be moments of great satisfaction, but also moments of doubt," he said Monday, urging the judges and prosecutors to act with professionalism and impartiality. "Your best qualities will be required: moral strength and the determination to reach our goal."

The tribunal offices were inaugurated early this year, after Cambodia and the UN agreed in 2003 to jointly establish the tribunal.

Drawn-out negotiations that started in 1999 and funding problems have led some critics to suggest that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government has intentionally stalled the process to avoid embarrassing Khmer Rouge members who back the government.

The Khmer Rouge movement collapsed in 1999, but none of its top leaders have been held accountable for atrocities.

Its leader, Pol Pot, died in 1998, but several of his top deputies, aging and infirm, still live freely in Cambodia.

International human rights groups welcomed the start of the long-awaited judicial process. But some expressed skepticism, citing government's control over Cambodia's judicial system.

"I think there are reasons to think that this whole process will fail," said Brad Adams, Asia director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch. "The Cambodian judges and prosecutors remain politically controlled, and will do whatever the government tells them to do."

Genocide Trials of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Leaders Officially Launched



03 July 2006


In Cambodia, the process of trying Khmer Rouge leaders accused of genocide officially began Monday as judges and prosecutors were sworn in. The court dates have yet to be set, but officials say they expect the trials to begin early next year.

Seventeen judges from Cambodia and 10 others appointed by the United Nations took the oath of office Monday inside Phnom Penh's royal palace.

The tribunal's media officer, Helen Jarvis, called it a historic day.

"Cambodians have been waiting for a whole generation for this day, which really kicks off the next phase of the judicial process," she said.

She said the judges will launch their investigations next week after spending this week setting up structures and mechanisms for the process.

They are investigating charges of genocide and crimes against humanity by leaders of the Khmer Rouge. During its reign of terror in the mid-1970s, known as the Killing Fields, an estimated 1.7 million people died from mass executions, torture, forced labor and starvation.

Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died eight years ago, but several senior leaders, now aging and sick, are expected to stand trial. They say they are keen to defend themselves.

The tribunal was delayed for years by disputes over its composition and funding.

Cambodian and U.N. negotiators eventually agreed that the accused would be tried under Cambodian law and by Cambodian judges but with international co-judges to ensure that the process met international legal standards.

The investigation phase is expected to take about six months, after which the results are to be handed over to the investigating judges. Officials say they expect the court trials to begin early next year.

Jarvis says surveys show that 80 percent of Cambodians support the process.

"People are just relieved that after so many delays we finally seem to be implementing what's been planned for so long," she said.

Because of the difficulties in forming the tribunal, many Cambodians had despaired of seeing justice in their lifetimes. And activists say the healing process has also been delayed for the estimated two-thirds of the Cambodian people who still suffer psychological effects from the Khmer Rouge ordeal.

Cambodia swears in tribunal

Phnom Penh (dpa) - Cambodia took a final step towards finding long-awaited justice for former Khmer Rouge leaders Monday with a colourful swearing in ceremony for 10 foreign judges and prosecutors at the Royal Palace, marking the symbolic beginning of the tribunal.

Cambodia's Supreme Council of Magistracy, headed by King Norodom Sihamoni, appointed 17 Cambodian and 13 international judges and prosecutors for the tribunal in May.

Monday's ceremony, presided over by Buddhist monks, United Nations and palace officials inside the palace's most sacred Silver Pagoda and broadcast on national television, represented proof to many Cambodians that 31 years after one of the last century's most bloody regimes took power, justice was finally going to be seen to be done.

Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said New Zealand judge Sylvia Cartwright and US reserve co-prosecutor Paul Coffey were still to arrive, but that Monday nevertheless marked the beginning of proceedings beginning in earnest, with the prosecution stage - slated to take up to six months to complete - set to move forward immediately.

Foreign donors are footing most of the 56.3 million dollar bill for the trial, and the hearings are expected to be broadcast live across Cambodia so that victims of the Khmer Rouge and their families around the country can follow the proceedings.

In a speech marking the opening session of the Judicial Planning and Development Workshop earlier in the day, deputy director of the Extraordinary Chambers, Michelle Lee, told delegates that 45 international staff would provide administrative and logistical support to 30 international judicial officials and their staff.

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

The Extraordinary Chambers to hear the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders will be housed in a military compound west of the capital under tight security. Cambodian and foreign jurists visited the centre earlier Monday. Foreign prosecutors and judges have been assigned accommodation in the five-star Raffles Hotel L''Royale during their stay and the Interior Ministry has deployed 24-hour bodyguard units.

But even as Monday's ceremony proceeded, lawyer Benson Samay, who represents one of the men touted by experts to be a key defendant in the tribunal, Ta Mok, announced his client remained in Military Hospital in a serious but slightly improved condition after being transferred from his prison cell last Thursday suffering stomach pains and an unidentified respiratory complaint.

The 82-year-old "Grandfather" Mok was the military strongman of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime during its 1975 to 1979 rule and was nicknamed The Butcher for his alleged role in the bloody purges which characterized the increasingly paranoid regime's brief but bloody reign.

"His condition has improved, just a little. He is taking rice soup by himself and he can open his eyes," Samay said.

Ta Mok has languished in Military Prison since his capture in 1999 - one of only two former leaders to be imprisoned ahead of the tribunal alongside with former commandant of Pol Pot's secret S-21 torture centre, Duch. Ta Mok was formally charged with crimes against humanity in 2002.

Ta Mok's failing health highlights the worst fears of advocates of a trial - that proceedings forge ahead in haste, or risk the now elderly and mainly ailing former leaders never face justice at all. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in his jungle home of Anlong Veng in 1998.

Up to 2 million people died of starvation, overwork, disease, torture and execution under the Khmer Rouge regime's Democratic Kampuchea, which abolished religion, property rights, currency and schools in an ruthless drive to turn the nation into a classless agrarian utopia.

Pol Pot's top deputy Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan live freely in their communities. They have long declined to comment on the upcoming trial.

However, Monday's ceremony, for many Cambodians at least, made it now almost unavoidable that these top leaders may finally have to face their day in court.

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

Cambodia tries to lay 'killing fields' to rest at last

War-crimes judges to be sworn in today amid prayers for 1.7 million victims

Special to The Globe and Mail

ANLONG SAH, CAMBODIA -- Amid the coconut groves, bamboo stilt houses and paddy fields of this Cambodian village, a wiry middle-aged rice farmer and father of nine is preparing to recount his career as a Khmer Rouge executioner.

Since the fall of the brutal regime, Him Huy, 52, has lived quietly, much like the estimated 30,000 other former low- and mid-level Khmer Rouge cadres. To the chagrin of some surviving victims, there is no prospect individuals such as Mr. Huy will be charged with crimes committed in their former roles, as the authorities fear such a step would reignite civil war.

Instead, he will soon be a willing accuser in a tribunal that takes its first symbolic step today after 10 years of muddle, delay and procrastination. Seventeen Cambodian and 13 international judges will attend a swearing in ceremony in Phnom Penh's ancient palace with priests reciting prayers for the souls of the 1.7 million Khmer Rouge victims.

Next year, two aged survivors from the party's top leadership are to be tried for crimes against humanity and genocide for their roles in the killing fields between 1975 and 1979.

Organizers of the $56.3-million (U.S.), UN-backed trial hope it will bring a measure of justice and help Cambodia confront its traumatic past.

Mr. Huy just wants a chance to explain his actions.

His neighbours already know what he did. Most have seen his photograph alongside black and white portraits of thousands of victims in the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, the school building in the capital that became Cambodia's most notorious interrogation centre.

When he was recruited into a predominantly teenage guerrilla army in 1973, Mr. Huy was a homesick 17-year-old village boy, he says, and insists that after its victory he was brainwashed with Maoist propaganda, then forced to inflict pain and execute enemies of the regime.

Harrowing paintings in the museum by a survivor show devilish-looking guards whipping and drowning inmates, but Mr. Huy says he is a victim of the regime's evil as much as anyone else.

"I was forced to be part of that clique."

His old commander at Tuol Sleng, a former math teacher called Duch, will be one of the two defendants when proceedings get under way next year in a converted military barracks. The other will be Ta Mok, known as "the butcher."

The ambition is to prosecute about 12 defendants during the five years the hearings are expected to last, although, as most of the likely accused are in their 70s and 80s, there are doubts whether they will live long enough to hear the verdicts.

The trial still has no exact start date, funding is short, and there has been criticism of the competence and independence of the Cambodian judges from human-rights groups and the Cambodian royal family. There are fears that there will not be any real investigation because of links between government members and the old regime.

Prime Minister Hun Sen was himself in the Khmer Rouge until he defected in 1977, although nobody is accusing him of any crimes.

Prince Thomico Sisowath, who lost his parents in the massacres, said: "If the government really wanted this trial to delve into Cambodia's past, they would have held it in The Hague. I am very doubtful about how it will work in practice. There are too many links between the ruling party and the Khmer Rouge."

Senior Khmer Rouge leaders still live openly in Cambodia, including "Brother No. 2" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and former foreign minister Ieng Sary, who has a mansion in Phnom Penh next door to the homes of some of his former victims. They may eventually find themselves on trial.

And that gives some hope to at least one of the seven surviving inmates from the thousands tortured in Tuol Sleng. Chum Mey, now 76, was a lorry driver when he was accused of being a CIA spy in November of 1978.

He remembers the Khmer Rouge cadres as swaggering teenagers with AK-47s who enjoyed projecting an aura of fear.

Although Mr. Huy had left the prison by the time Mr. Mey was sent there, he has met the former executioner several times in recent years, arguing with him last week during a radio station phone-in, and believes he should be on trial.

"The prison guards were not victims," he said. "While I was waiting to die, they were waiting to kill."

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, which researches the killings, believes the hearings are needed.

"Although Cambodia today looks normal," he said, "underneath people are still traumatized. The perpetrators need a trial most of all. It will help them to understand what they did."

Tribunal into Cambodia killings to begin

10 July 2006 08:02

A United Nations-backed tribunal in Cambodia is due today to begin an investigation into the genocide known as 'The Killing Fields' in which an estimated 1.7 million people died in the 1970s.

Prosecutors are to question surviving members of the Khmer Rouge, who were in power at the time.

The investigation follows six years of investigations between the UN and the government in Phnom Phen.

Khmer Rouge prosecutors say probe will take months

By Ek Madra
Reuters
Friday, July 7, 2006; 10:35 AM

PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Prosecutors investigating the Khmer Rouge genocide of the 1970s said on Friday it will take months to assemble cases against those responsible for the deaths of 1.7 million people.

"The investigation phase of any trial is a long process," Canadian prosecutor Robert Petit told reporters in Phnom Penh after a week-long meeting of foreign and Cambodian jurists assigned to the long-awaited tribunal.

"We will begin our work with a blank slate and build our cases based on the information we discover over the next weeks and months," said Petit, one of 17 Cambodian and 10 foreign judges and prosecutors.

Almost every Cambodian family lost relatives under the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime and none of its top leaders, some of whom are alive and living quietly in Cambodia, has faced trial.

After they were sworn in by Buddhist priests on Monday, the jurists spent the rest of the week discussing legal procedures for the trials expected to begin in early 2007 with a 3-year budget of $56.3 million.

They said the tribunal would meet international judicial standards and they rejected concerns about the impartiality of some Cambodian judges.

A lawyer defending one of Pol Pot's surviving henchman said on Wednesday his client could not get a fair trial because nearly all Cambodian judges had lost relatives in the genocide.

Principal Defender Rupert Skilbeck said the accused had a fundamental right to effective legal representation and the presumption of innocence.

"Perhaps in these trials more than ever before, the whole world presumes that the defendants are guilty," he said.

It is not clear how many of Pol Pot's cadres will stand trial more than three decades after the Khmer Rouge emptied Phnom Penh and other cities on taking power after a civil war. Whole sections of society, including Buddhist monks, ethnic minorities and the middle class, were branded hostile to the regime's dream of an agrarian, peasant utopia and put to death in the "Killing Fields" or died of starvation, forced labor or disease.

Pol Pot, "Brother Number One," died in 1998 in his jungle hideout nearly a decade after a Vietnamese invasion ousted the regime.

"Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary are living in the northwest near the Thai border.

Only two top cadres are in custody accused of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity.

One of them, Duch, 64, ran the notorious Tuol Sleng interrogation center in Phnom Penh where few prisoners survived.

The other detained cadre is 82-year-old Ta Mok, the one-legged Khmer Rouge military chief who has said he wanted a swift trial.

Prosecution stage of Khmer Rouge trial to begin Monday

Jul 7, 2006, 10:29 GMT


Phnom Penh - The prosecution stage of the long-awaited trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders will finally begin Monday, but indictments will be much slower to come, the international co-prosecutor of the Extraordinary Chambers, Robert Petit, said Friday.

Speaking at a press conference in Phnom Penh introducing the judicial officers set to preside over the hearings, Petit and principal defender Rupert Stilbeck both warned that no assumptions of guilt would be made, and that to prosecute, indict and defend those accused to international standard would be a slow and complex process.

'Let me assure you, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) is real and all of the judicial officials sitting before you today are dedicated to its success,' Petit said.

However, he said 'the structure and concept of this court is unlike any history, and as a result we will face many challenges in our work.'

'For my office, the Office of the Co-Prosecutor ... we begin work on Monday. It does not mean, however, that indictments will be issued on Tuesday.'

The difficulties facing the court became apparent even as Friday's gathering progressed, as organizers rushed to find a translator for French-speaking co-investigating judge Marcel Lemonde as he spoke of the urgent need to meld a range of different legal systems in a chaotic hour-long press conference conducted at times simultaneously in English, Khmer and French.

Defender Stilbeck made it clear that international standards of justice meant that all defendants had the right to a fair trial, a presumption of innocence and effective legal representation and that these rights would be strictly enforced.

'These fundamental principals are even more important perhaps in these trials than ever before because more than ever before there is an expectation that these people are guilty,' he said.

He dismissed concerns about the impartiality of some Cambodian judges marring future verdicts, saying the ECCC code of ethics allowed for this to be questioned and for any judicial member who failed to meet international standards to be removed.

'At every other criminal tribunal of this nature there have been challenged to judges based on impartiality ... I expect similar challenges at this tribunal based on the international standards that will apply,' he said.

He said these standards had proved adequate in the past, noting that the president of the crimes against humanity trial in Sierra Leone had been removed after such challenges.

However despite a prosecution process slated to take six months to complete now lying ahead and stringent attention to the highest standards of justice being observed, the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders would not be allowed to become bogged down, co-investigating judge You Bunleng said.

'This tribunal has a limited budget and the timeframe is definitive,' Bunleng said.

The 56.3 million dollar tribunal, budgeted to take three years to complete, now looks certain to get underway 31 years after the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge's Democratic Kampuchea regime took power and began one of the bloodiest genocides of the last century in a drive to turn the nation into an agrarian utopia.

Up to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, disease, overwork, torture and execution during the 1975 to 1979 rule.

Prosecutors in Cambodia begin Khmer Rouge probe

Prosecutors for Cambodia's new Khmer Rouge tribunal have started their probe of surviving leaders of the regime.

Two of the UN-backed tribunal's prosecutors are deciding which of the men should face trial.

They will collect evidence and documents before they issue the indictments.

A total of 17 Cambodian and 10 UN-appointed foreign judges were sworn in last week.

The Khmer Rouge has been blamed for the deaths of up to two million people in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.

Surviving members of the regime are in their 70s and 80s, prompting fears that they could die before facing justice.