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Khmer Rouge on trial (or not)

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The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were set up in February 2009 to try the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders accused of being ‘most responsible’ for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979, when up to two million people died from starvation, torture and execution under Pol Pot’s regime. In 2010, the prison camp commander Kaing Guek Eav was given a 35-year sentence for crimes against humanity. The trial of three other Khmer Rouge leaders is ongoing. But the tribunal is in danger of being derailed by cases 003 and 004, which involve lower ranking Khmer Rouge cadres and have been subject to intense political opposition from the Cambodian government, some of whom used to belong to the Khmer Rouge. Hun Sen, the country’s leader since 1985 and a former Khmer Rouge cadre, has spoken out repeatedly against cases 003 and 004.

In October 2011, the international coinvestigating judge, Siegfried Blunk, resigned, citing statements made by the government which could be perceived as interfering with the tribunal’s work. According to Human Rights Watch, Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, had ‘failed to conduct genuine, impartial, and effective investigations into… cases 003 and 004’. After Blunk resigned, it was alleged – and denied by the tribunal – that documents in the case files had been modified and backdated, raising further questions about the tribunal’s integrity.

Then in December, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, the reserve international coinvestigating judge, was warned that he could not take up his official duties until his appointment had been confirmed by the Supreme Court of the Magistracy. Kasper-Ansermet said that he would ‘endeavour to keep the public sufficiently informed about major developments in Case Files 003 and 004’ and had been executing ‘his mandate by remote means from abroad’ since 14 November. You Bunleng responded that Kasper-Ansermet ‘must first wait for an official appointment before commencing his duties. For this reason, any procedural action taken by Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet is not legally valid.’

Last Friday, the office of the UN secretary-general said that Cambodia had breached its agreement with the UN by failing to confirm Kasper-Ansermet’s appointment. Cases 003 and 004 have effectively ground to a halt. The chances of more Khmer Rouge functionaries being brought to justice seem increasingly remote.

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