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Caroline Stauffer: Cambodian Justice — Too Little, Too Late

Wednesday, May 20, marks the annual "Day of Anger" for Cambodians remembering the victims of the brutal five-year reign of the Khmer Rouge. The five defendants to be tried in Phnom Penh are accused of crimes against humanity relating to the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodian lives in 1975-79. It has been more than three months since the ceremonial start of the trials in Cambodia on February 17, intended to bring the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders to justice. Witnesses were first called on March 30 and have only recently begun their testimony. Civil war ended in Cambodia in the 1990s, and Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died a decade ago. Justice is only now being sought, some 30 years after the Killing Fields era. At this rate, it might be another 30 years by the time closing arguments roll around. International news reports from the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia in February focused on the historic nature of the Khmer Rouge trials, but most articles mentioned the word "corruption" in their leads, if not in the headlines. Disputes between the international and Cambodian judges who sit on the hybrid United Nations/Cambodian tribunal still remain unresolved, and charges of corruption are now coming from both sides. The Phnom Penh Post reported “a complete breakdown of trust between the two sides” on May 13. The international judges hope to try even more Khmer Rouge members—something the Cambodian side of the court will not permit. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who was, coincidentally, a lower-level Khmer Rouge officer until 1977, has said that more trials could send the country back into civil war. Funding for the tribunal from international donors is mostly frozen in a trust fund held by the United Nations Development Program, pending a commitment from Phnom Penh to ensure that proceedings will be free and fair—and that someone besides the Cambodian government can hear complaints. Frustrated by Hun Sen's intransigence, Australia took the rogue step of calling for the release of its donations in April, a request the UNDP denied. The trials likely would not have started at all without a $200,000 bailout from Japan to pay Cambodian staff. Japan then went even further, upping its investment in the court with a $4.17 million donation in April.

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