BANGKOK (Reuters) - The United Nations-backed court trying those “most responsible” for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians under the 1970s Khmer Rogue regime is embroiled in controversy in the run up to its most high-profile case next week.
Several court staff have resigned in recent weeks following a decision by co-investigating judges not to indict a third case despite what prosecutors say is strong evidence implicating more former Khmer Rouge cadres in atrocities.
Below are some questions and answers about the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, was last year found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity over his role in the deaths of more than 14,000 people at a torture center he ran during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge era. He was sentenced to 35 years in prison, reduced to 19 years, and has appealed against the verdict.
The next case, 002, gets under way on Monday, with four infirm senior cadres facing various charges ranging from war crimes and crimes against humanity to murder and torture. Many Cambodians fear they will die before their case concludes.
The four are ex-president Khieu Samphan, former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife Ieng Thirith, a former Shakespeare scholar known as “the Khmer Rouge First Lady,” and “Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea, the right hand man of Pol Pot, the French-educated architect of the ultra-Maoist movement, who died in 1998.
The identity of the two individuals in case 003 has never been disclosed officially, but they are widely reported to be two senior military commanders of the regime who experts say could be responsible for thousands of deaths.
The Open Society Justice Initiative, an independent legal advocacy group, said there was sufficient evidence to bring cases 003 to trial and claimed two judges, one Cambodian and one foreign, were blocking the investigations. Although the cases are still technically open, there have been no closing orders leading to an indictment.
Open Justice Initiative, which has followed the tribunal closely, has called for the U.N. to investigate its own judges, saying there were “serious questions of judicial independence, misconduct and competence.”
Several court officials have quit in recent weeks and international co-prosecutor Andrew Cawley has filed motions asking judges to reopen the investigations.
A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement on June 14 rejecting what it said was media speculation that the U.N had instructed the court to dismiss case 003. It said judges, at this stage, were not required to provide reasons for their actions and reiterated that the U.N. would not comment on issues that were the subject of judicial consideration.
The U.N. and the international community set up a tribunal more than a decade ago, but the government sought to retain control of the court and the plan languished for years. The ECCC was given the go-ahead in 2005 but was delayed by bail hearings, appeals and pre-trial machinations.
The process is extremely bureaucratic and painstakingly slow. Khmer Rouge victims have the right to a lawyer, to call witnesses and to ask questions and some lawyers have tied up proceedings with repetitive or irrelevant questions.
According to the ECCC, it spent $109.1 million from 2006 to the end of last year, $85 million of which was by the U.N. and $24.1 by Cambodia. It has a budget of $40.7 million for this year alone and estimated total expenditure by the end of this year is $149.8 million.
Major donor countries are France, Germany, Britain, Australia the United States. The ECCC says Japan is the biggest donor, providing about half of all international contributions.
Many former Khmer Rouge members have been reintegrated into Cambodian society and the civil service and top levels of provincial and national government. Allegations of political interference in the court have been made and Cambodia’s government has been in no hurry to speed up the hearings.
Long-serving Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge guerrilla who says he defected to the regime’s eventual conqueror, Vietnam, has warned of a potential civil war if the court indicts more suspects and told U.N. chief Ban that there would be no further indictments.
Editing by Alex Richardson