Global Policy Forum

Khmer Rouge to Face UN Tribunal


By John Aglionby

May 2, 2005

A tribunal to prosecute members of Cambodia's former Khmer Rouge regime for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people is to be established, after eight years of negotiations over legal and financial conditions. Cambodia's government welcomed the UN announcement in New York on Friday. But diplomats and human rights activists said yesterday they remain unconvinced that the impoverished country's people would see justice for the 1975-79 genocide in which almost a quarter of the population were killed or died from disease and starvation.

It is not clear how many members of the Maoist Khmer Rouge will be tried. Pol Pot, its brutal leader, died in 1998, but many senior lieutenants are still alive, albeit in frail health. Two are in custody: Ta Mok, 78, known as the Butcher; and Kang Kek Ieu, 62, nicknamed Duch. They were, respectively, head of the south-western region and commander of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in the capital. Two of the most prominent people at liberty who could well face justice are Nuon Chea, Pol Pot's deputy, and Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouge regime's head of state and public face.

The UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, told the Cambodian prime minister, Hun Sen, in a letter that the legal requirements for the tribunal had been complied with. He added that "sufficient pledges and contributions are now in place to fund the staffing of the extraordinary chambers and their operations for a sustained period of time". The UN had been demanding pledges for a three-year tribunal and commitments for the first 12 months. The international community has promised about £22.6m of the £29.5m estimated budget, with Phnom Penh contributing the rest.

The tribunal will comprise mainly Cambodian judges and prosecutors, but the agreement of at least one international judge will be required to obtain a conviction. "We welcome Annan's statement," a Cambodian government spokesman, Khieu Kanharith, said on Saturday. "We want this [tribunal] to be formed as soon as possible." Such enthusiasm is probably not genuine, according to Kek Galabru, the president of the Cambodian human rights group Licadho. "If the government really had the political will to establish this tribunal we should have had one already," she told the Guardian. "So we are not sure that the tribunal will happen, even though the government has no more excuses to delay."

Phnom Penh-based diplomats are equally sceptical. "The government has undoubtedly been dragging its heels on this, and at times actively working against the formation of a tribunal," one senior western diplomat said. The government's attitude was so uncooperative two years ago that the UN pulled out of the tribunal negotiations. The process was further delayed last year when Cambodia's political system was deadlocked after a general election produced a hung parliament.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Special Tribunal for Cambodia
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts


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