The independence of judges and prosecutors will be the top criterion for determining whether the Khmer Rouge tribunal meets international standards, an international war crimes expert said in Phnom Penh on Monday.
David Scheffer, former US ambassador at large for war crimes and current CNN International analyst for Saddam Hussein’s trial in Iraq, presented a list of criteria the Khmer Rouge tribunal should meet for it to be deemed to have lived up to international standards.
These include defendants’ right to remain silent, the presumption of innocence and freedom from coercion for witnesses and defendants.
But at the top of the list, prepared for the NGO Open Society Justice Initiative, was the independence of judges and prosecutors, followed by the right of defendants to have highly qualified lawyers.
“If the bench is not of the standard set forth in the [tribunal] statute…there is going to be an issue as to what extent the decisions of this court are going to be widely respected,” Scheffer said at a news conference.
He added that he was not qualified to assess the Cambodian judges and prosecutors appointed to the tribunal, some of which have been criticized by local legal experts.
Legal analyst Lao Mong Hay on Friday accused tribunal judicial appointee Ney Thol of being a member of the central committee of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP, adding that he believed all the nominees to be members of the ruling party.
Scheffer said that disclosure of party affiliation was not necessary.
“I think it is common knowledge what party affiliations are,” Scheffer said of the nominees.
“It should be possible under [international] conditions for those individuals to put their political backgrounds aside,” he said.
He added that successful monitoring of the tribunal should ensure that there are ramifications if suspect decisions are made.
“There is going to be enough, I presume effective, monitoring of this process that if the decisions of the judges begin to get called into question…you can imagine at some point the United Nations would consider removing its support,” he said.
Helen Jarvis, the tribunal’s chief of public affairs, said UN withdrawal was possible, but that the tribunal statute does not explicitly state what international standards would have to be violated to require the UN to do so. “Both sides have committed to having a tribunal of international standards. We are not sitting around wondering about if the possibility of something like that happens,” she said.
In paying judges sufficiently and involving international participants at every level, the trial has safeguards that protect against political influence, Scheffer said.
He also said he has sensed that the US may be willing to fund the tribunal if there are no serious violations of international standards.
“I have sort of sensed that in the last year or two, we were moving beyond [the US’] concerns and support was beginning to galvanize,” he said. “Hopefully within a reasonable period of time the United States government can give some overt support for this process.”
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle said that such a decision would depend on the US Congress, and that he could not confirm whether the US was moving toward funding the tribunal.