King Approves List of Judges For KR Trial

King Norodom Sihamoni formally approved the official list of national and international judges and prosecutors for the Khmer Rouge tribunal on Sunday, the Public Affairs Office of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia announced on Monday.

The list includes 13 international officials, from Australia, Austria, Canada, France, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Poland, Sri Lanka and the US, and 17 Cambodia officials.

In a news release issued Monday, the Open Society Justice Initiative welcomed the appointments but questioned the government’s procedures for selecting the Cambodian officials.

“These appointments give hope that justice will be done in Cambodia,” said James Goldston, executive director of Open Society Justice Initiative, which works with international tribunals worldwide.

“However, the opaque nature of the Cambodian government’s selection process is a cause for concern. The court still has many needs-from translation services to criminal investigators-before the Cambodian people can be assured of seeing justice after nearly 30 years of waiting.”

The release added that the judges “were appointed by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy in a manner that did not engage either the UN or civil society.”

Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the legal aid NGO Cambodian Defenders Project, said he was concerned that some of the Cambodian judges hold law degrees from countries such as Kazakhstan, Vietnam, and the USSR.

“In Soviet bloc countries, legal education is very narrow,” he said.

“They don’t focus on evidence or the rights of the accused. They do not care. The difficulties of the state are more important than the freedom of the people.”

Tribunal Public Affairs Officer Peter Foster wrote in an e-mail that the appointees represented a wide range of both practical experience and formal education.

“We make no judgement on degrees obtained from Vietnam, the former USSR or any countries on that list,” Foster said.

“Remember that both the international community and the people of Cambodia will be able to keep close watch over the judicial process of the ECCC as it develops,” he said.

“We are confident that the results will be positive,” he added.

Legal expert Lao Mong Hay said questions around the suitability of some of the appointees could spark an outcry that could stall the trial yet further.

“I’m not so sure the government wants the trial in the first place,” Lao Mong Hay said.

“They just delay and delay until those involved are too senile to stand trial. Or, in some cases, I’m sorry to say, they will pass away,” he said.

Some of the Cambodian appointees defended themselves on Monday.

Ratanakkiri Provincial Court Director Ya Narin, who is listed as a judge in the tribunal’s Supreme Court chamber, said he was well qualified and prepared for the job.

“Fulfilling the work always involves facing obstacles. I have a PhD of law from the Soviet Union,” he said.

Thong Ol, a reserve co-investigating judge, said he had not been officially informed by the Ministry of Justice but that he was not surprised by his appointment.

As a high school diploma holder with 17 years experience in the Cambodian courts, Thong Ol said he was qualified for the job.

“The Supreme Council of the Magistracy has already examined my qualifications before they selected me,” he said. “I have worked a long time,” he added.

Currently a Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge, Thong Ol questioned Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando before he was charged and jailed for alleged defamation in October.

Human rights groups denounced the charges against Mam Sonando, and he was released from jail in January.

Thong Ol also presided over the 2000 trial of former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin, who was accused of killing three Western backpackers in 1994.

Thong Ol said at the time that Chhouk Rin was not guilty because he was covered by a 1994 law that granted amnesty to Khmer Rouge guerrillas who defected to the government.

Chhouk Rin was arrested in October 2005 after both the Appeals Court and the Supreme Court overturned the municipal court ruling.

Military Court President Ney Thol, who will be a pre-trial chamber judge, said on Friday that the most important requirement for a judge was self-confidence and advised critics of his suitability for the tribunal to examine their own behavior first.

In August, Ney Thol convicted Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy of organizing a so-called shadow army and sentenced him to seven years in jail for fraud and sedition.

The US, the UN, the European Union and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, which comprises 21 NGOs and international rights organizations, condemned the ruling. Cheam Channy was freed in February after serving a year of his prison term.

In March 1998, Ney Thol also sentenced then-first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh in absentia to 30 years in jail, and demanded compensation of more than $56 million, for conspiring with the Khmer Rouge to overthrow the government.

At the same trial, Ney Thol sentenced now-Deputy Prime Minister Nhiek Bun Chhay to 20 years in prison for colluding with the prince.

Government officials and foreign diplomats slammed the trial, saying the ruling was a political ploy designed to freeze Prince Ranariddh out of the 1998 national elections.

King Norodom Sihanouk pardoned his son four days later.

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ya Sokan, who will be a trial chamber judge in the tribunal, in December 2004 sentenced three men to life in prison for plotting to bomb the US and British embassies in Phnom Penh.

Local Cham Muslims and human rights workers said the evidence against the three was flimsy.

Also listed as a judge in the tribunal’s trial chamber is Appeals Court Presiding Judge Thou Mony.

In a hearing in 2004, Thou Mony was one of three judges who cleared Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew Nhim Sophea of all charges related to a notorious car crash in 2003 that left one man dead and was followed by the shooting dead of two passersby with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Thou Mony said at the time that Nhim Sophea, who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by the Phnom Penh Municipal Court several months earlier for the killings, was not the culprit.

Thou Mony could not be contacted for comment on his appointment on Monday.

Thun Saray, president of the local rights group Adhoc, said he was not inspired by the selection.

“We are very disappointed about this,” Thun Saray said.

“With just one phone call, these judges could be swayed,” he added.

(Reporting by Whitney Kvasager, Prak Chan Thul and Yun Samean)

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