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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State’s meddling threatens Khmer Rouge trials: report

AFP , PHNOM PENH


Cambodian government interference threatens the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal, a report by an international monitoring group said yesterday, as the court heard final arguments in the trial of the regime’s chief jailer.

An Open Society Justice Initiative report noted the UN-backed tribunal had made progress in its first trial, against former Khmer Rouge prison boss Duch, but warned that concerns of political meddling could undermine the court.

“Political interference at the [court] poses a serious challenge to both the credibility of the court and its ability to meet international fair trial standards,” the report said.

A refusal by the court’s Cambodian investigating judge to summon high-ranking officials for questioning and statements against the court by senior government members have heightened concerns, the report said.

The organization also said that government delays in selecting a new international prosecutor after Canadian Robert Petit announced his resignation for family reasons in June has left the prosecution “without balanced and strong leadership.”

“While no reason for this delay has been stated publicly, it is becoming increasingly apparent that it will, and perhaps is intended to, weaken the office of the prosecutor by depriving it of long-term leadership,” the report said.

The troubled tribunal, which has also been hit by allegations that local staff were forced to pay kickbacks for their jobs, was created in 2006 to try leading members of the regime on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The process has often been hit by allegations that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration has attempted to interfere in the tribunal to protect former regime members who are now in government.

As the court has sought to investigate other suspects, Hun Sen has made fiery speeches warning further prosecutions could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.

After Duch, whose real name is Kaing Guek Eav, the court plans to try former Khmer Rouge ideologue Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, foreign minister Ieng Sary and his wife, minister of social affairs Ieng Thirith.

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