After 26 Years, Hope for KR Justice Wanes

Tep Sokhun no longer holds out any hope that the Khmer Rouge leaders she holds responsible for killing her four brothers will be tried.

The 53-year-old sugarcane juice seller is among countless Cambo­dians who have been waiting for justice for more than 20 years, and now Tep Sokhun says she has given up.

“It’s been so long and no one has been tried yet, so I don’t think anything will happen,” she said. “But I still think about the past a lot and I have a broken heart.”

Twenty-six years ago today, Khmer Rouge troops marched into Phnom Penh, beginning almost four years of terror that left more than one million Cam­bodians dead.

The government does not officially recognize the April 17th anniversary, but the Sam Rainsy Party is holding a Buddhist ceremony beginning at 8 am today for those who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. The ceremony will be held at the Tuol Sleng genocide museum, which the Khmer Rouge used as a torture prison.

For several years, the Cambo­dian government and the UN have been discussing ways to try the Khmer Rouge leaders re­spon­sible for the mass murders, but disagreements stalled the process.

Finally, a tribunal draft law was approved by the National As­sembly and Senate in January. But a technical error cited by the Constitutional Council means the law will have to go through a second round of review beginning with the National Assembly, which will consider the law again after it reconvenes Wednesday.

Though most observers saw the passage of the tribunal law by parliament as a significant achievement, the process is still plagued by delays, leaving many ordinary Cambodians wondering whether they will ever see someone held responsible.

Despite the ups and downs, those involved in the tribunal process say significant progress has been made, and formulating a law of this importance requires time and patience.

Still, Vong Ry, 49, has waited so long to see the Khmer Rouge leaders tried that he no longer cares whether a tribunal will ever take place. Though the cyclo driver lost six brothers and sisters to the Khmer Rouge, Vong Ry thinks more about how he will survive another day than whether Khmer Rouge leaders will face a trial.

“The Khmer Rouge is in the past,” he said. “I want the government to improve my living conditions and focus on the future.”

It was exactly one year ago today that Prime Minister Hun Sen announced he accepted the US plan of a so-called mixed tribunal, giving hope to trial negotiations that had failed on many occasions before.

The UN and the Cambodian government had been unable to reach an agreement on the makeup of the tribunal, with the UN wanting a purely international trial and the Cambodian government pushing for full control over the tribunal.

The US then came up with a compromise plan for a mixed tribunal, with both Cambodian and foreign judges and prosecutors. Decisions would be made based on a super-majority system.

Despite the agreement on the mixed tribunal, the process stalled on several occasions, prompting Japan and 23 other countries to submit a resolution to the UN Human Rights commission, urging the Cambodian government to resolve its differences with the UN.

Last May 1, just days after Hun Sen said the government and the UN had reached a tribunal agreement, he warned that the deal could fall apart in the National Assembly.

Senator John Kerry from the US state of Massachusetts has visited Cambodia twice in the past year to push forward the draft law process.

The last time Kerry came to visit was after National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said in October that lawmakers would not have time to debate the Khmer Rouge draft law before the end of its session. The Prince cited floods  and the busy schedules of government officials as reasons why parliamentarians could not consider the law.

And although Hun Sen said a trial could begin as early as this year, many observers acknowledge that will probably not be possible, given the current status of the draft law.

After it goes through another round of review, the UN and the government have to make the deal official through a memorandum of understanding, which could require another round of negotiations.

The UN and the government also have to resolve concerns raised in a letter by UN legal expert Hans Corell.

In the meantime, the remaining Khmer Rouge leaders grow older, and some fear they might die before a trial begins. Khmer Rouge commander Ta Mok, one of only two cadre in custody awaiting a tribunal, is reportedly ill.

“I feel a bit frustrated that a trial hasn’t taken place yet, but I don’t know what to do,” said Prem Sophoan, a 35-year-old traffic police officer who lost his brother and uncle to the Khmer Rouge.

“But I will wait for the government to deal with the problem and I hope justice will come to the victims soon.”


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