Global Policy Forum

Judges Sworn In For Historic


Associated Press
July 3, 2006

Judges and prosecutors from Cambodia and foreign countries were sworn in Monday to begin the historic U.N.-backed judicial process to try former Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity. The swearing-in was a major step forward in the process of seeking justice for the victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, whose extremist policies in the late 1970s are estimated to have taken 1.7 million lives. After decades of inaction and delays, trials are expected to start in 2007, although no date has been set.

"This is the milestone officially marking the beginning of a long process,'' said Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group that collects evidence of Khmer Rouge crimes. The swearing-in ceremony for 17 Cambodian and 10 U.N.-appointed judicial officials took place inside the Royal Palace in the capital Phnom Penh. The event "erases the negative speculation people have had in the past that there won't be any trial'' for surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal administration office.

One of those leaders, chief ideologue Nuon Chea, said he would go before the tribunal if called in order to clarify the past. "I will be glad to go so that people in my country and other countries will know the truth of what happened. Whatever they ask, I will tell them,'' he said in an interview with The Associated Press in the northwestern town of Pailin, where he lives with other former top Khmer Rouge leaders. "I have responsibility for what happened, not for the killing but for not being able to protect my own people,'' he said. The victims of the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime died of starvation, disease, overwork and execution. The communist movement collapsed in 1999, but none of its top leaders have been held accountable for the atrocities. Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot died in 1998. Several of his top deputies, aging and infirm, still live freely in Cambodia.

Cambodian jurists took their oath by pledging to do their jobs with "honor, professional conscience, honesty, integrity, transparency and independence'' and to not "accept or seek instructions from any governments or any other sources.'' The foreign jurists then took their oaths. The tribunal offices were inaugurated early this year after Cambodia and the U.N. 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 court process to avoid embarrassing Khmer Rouge members who had become government backers.

As the tribunal process moved ahead, jailed former Khmer Rouge army commander Ta Mok, 82, remained in hospital being treated for various ailments. The other detained Khmer Rouge official is Kaing Khek Iev, alias Duch, who headed the former Khmer Rouge S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, where thousands were tortured and executed.

Reach Sambath said the prosecutors will move into their offices July 10, "a sign the actual trials will start very soon.'' The judicial officials will be holding a series of workshops to draw up strategy for convening the trials, he added. But Chum Mey, a survivor of the S-21 prison, complained the proceedings were part of a "jerky and slow'' journey to create the tribunal. "They should not have kept victims like me waiting this long,'' he said. "I am already 76 years old and don't know how long I can wait'' to see justice.

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