Monday, June 13, 2011

Cambodia / Genocide Tribunals

A "Toxic Mistrust" at Cambodia's Dysfunctional Genocide Trial
By Andrew Buncombe
The Independent, June 13, 2011
"It's increasingly clear that the genocide tribunal in Cambodia -- a court set up to investigate and prosecute senior members of the Khmer Rouge regime who were responsible for the deaths of unknown numbers of people -- is in nothing less than a state of utter crisis. At the heart of the problem is the issue of how many former members of the murderous regime out to be brought before the court and how many should be allowed to quietly live out their lives. Last month I reported that Andrew Cayley, a British lawyer who serves as one of two prosecutors at the tribunal, had requested the investigating judges extend their inquiries into the actions of several former Khmer Rouge officials. He did so after the judges announced their investigation into the individuals -- a docket that is known as Case 003 -- had been concluded, without the individuals themselves even being questioned. Now there is more turmoil. Dr Stephen Heder, a former journalist and Cambodia expert who now lectures on south-east Asia at London's SOAS and who served as an advisor to the court, has resigned his position. Four other staff, said to be full-time UN employees, are said to have also resigned over what is widely perceived to be a reluctance on behalf the judges to pursue Case 003. The academic has declined to comment on his decision to stand down but in his letter of resignation, which he made available to me, Dr. Heder wrote that he was quitting because the judges had decided to close Case 003 'effectively without investigating it, which I, like others, believe was unreasonable.' But he said more than that, adding that he and others had lost confidence in the leadership of the judges and that they had created a 'toxic atmosphere of mutual distrust' in 'what is now a professionally dysfunctional office.' The $200m tribunal that took more than a decade to establish, has always struggled against a backdrop of interference and opposition from the Cambodian authorities. Five suspects, among them Comrade Duch, or Kaing Guek Eav, the head of the S-21 torture and interrogation centre in Phnom Penh who was convicted last summer, have been formally charged.
According to Cambodian prime minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge commander, that is where the matter should end. Last year, he told UN secretary general Ban ki-Moon that he wanted to see no more people brought to trial. He claimed it would be damaging to the nation to do so. But other observers and members of the legal fraternity believe there is adequate evidence to bring cases against other former members of the Maoist-inspired regime. As far back as 2001, when he was at the American University in Washington DC, Dr. Heder made a case for prosecuting Meas Muth, a former commander of the Khmer Rouge navy who is accused, among other things, with the kidnap and murder of several foreign tourists, and air force commander Sou Met. It is believed these two men are the defendants listed in Case 003, details of which have not been made public, that the judges so superficially investigated. Few think a case will now ever be brought against these individuals. [...]"

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