Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodia Tribunal May Pave Way for Judicial Reform

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Cambodia Tribunal May Pave Way for Judicial Reform

Article excerpt

Cambodia has taken a big step toward finally bringing to justice some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge, a regime blamed for the death of one-fifth of the populace in the 1970s.

The Cambodian Parliament ratified an agreement with the United Nations earlier this month to form an international tribunal to try surviving senior leaders. However, no date has been set for the trials, expected to cost more than $50 million - money not yet secured.

Aside from healing the wounds of what the UN has termed a genocide, the internationally-backed process could help professionalize the judiciary in a country that has notoriously corrupt cops and courts. But optimism has been tempered by the six years of negotiations and legislative delays that held up the UN agreement and ratification; many Cambodians lost hope long ago.

The ratification came amid other uncertainties about Cambodia's future. Last Thursday, Cambodia's 81-year-old King Norodom Sihanouk announced his abdication, citing ill health. Within a day, lawmakers approved legislation to establish a Throne Council to choose his successor - evidence the government can move quickly when it so chooses.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told the Associated Press that Cambodia could begin the Khmer Rouge trials by the end of next year.

The tribunal can provide a vision "for a better society, for a better country," says Youk Chhang, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has spent years gathering evidence against former Khmer Rouge leaders. He says few trained Cambodian jurists survived the Khmer Rouge regime; the country needs a new generation of legal leaders.

To that end, the Cambodian government and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) are teaching judges and prosecutors about war crimes, genocide, humanitarian law, and international standards of justice.

Such training, according to UNDP, adds to overall legal and judicial reform efforts. As Youk Chhang notes, Cambodians have little access to justice. Aid workers complain regularly of judges and police officers bought with bribes, criminals set free, and victims going uncompensated. Not least among the victims seeking justice are the millions awaiting the tribunal. …

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