The Khmer Rouge tribunal has so far failed to deliver, and given the recent death of one of the three accused, the court’s financial woes and the advancing age of the two remaining defendants, there is little optimism that it ever will, victims of the Pol Pot regime said Monday.
Thirteen representatives of the U.N.-backed tribunal’s 3,000 civil parties—people who can prove they suffered physical, material or psychological injury from the crimes being prosecuted before the court—held a meeting Monday at the offices of local rights group Adhoc in Phnom Penh to express their frustration with the slow pace of the war crimes tribunal.
They relayed their disappointment that the March 14 death of former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary meant the case against him was now redundant, and also voiced concern that if the current trial, known as Case 002, is not expedited, the remaining two accused may also die before a verdict is reached.
“The purpose of our gathering today is that we, the civil party representatives, want the court to hasten the process to reach the final decision and come to a verdict on the remaining two accused as soon as possible,” said Soum Rithy, 60, who was imprisoned and tortured in Siem Reap prison until the Khmer Rouge fell in 1979.
“If Case 002 fails to reach a verdict, those who established the tribunal should be ashamed, particularly the United Nations,” he added.
Another civil party, Pen Soeun, said he was despairing in the wake of Ieng Sary’s death.
“We have completely lost confidence in the tribunal,” he said.
“All the victims have regularly demanded the court speed up proceedings…in contrast, we have lost hope as the court has delayed the process,” he continued.
Mr. Soeun was equally pessimistic that any more convictions would be secured in the future, pointing to the fact that Nuon Chea has been ill recently, and could die before a verdict is reached.
“Then the court will be worthless and we will not receive justice,” he said.
The Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday heard testimony from two doctors who examined Nuon Chea and found that he was both physically and mentally fit for trial, but said it would not be surprising if he died in the next six months.
Chum Mey, a survivor of the S-21 prison and torture center, echoed Mr. Soeun’s concerns regarding the health of Nuon Chea.
“Before it is too late to explore the truth from the tight lips of the Khmer Rouge leaders, the tribunal must remove unnecessary procedure,” he said.
The hybrid court has been bogged down by delays; between November 21, 2011, and the end of last year, there were only 140 days of court hearings. Mr. Soeun also criticized what he said was the huge amount of money spent on the court—about $173 million so far—with little to show for it. He also suggested that court employees were only concerned about their own financial security rather than finding justice for victims.
“Staff are just worried about their salaries,” he said. “They just think about their benefits; they just think of money.” Recently, the tribunal has been rocked by strikes by some of the national staff, most of whom have not been paid for several months.
Kim Chanboreth, a civil party from Kompong Thom province, was even skeptical that Ieng Thirith—released after being diagnosed with advanced dementia—was really ill at all.
“She just acted; she just pretends to avoid standing trial,” she said.
In a statement released following Monday’s meeting, Adhoc said that the event had come about after “civil party representatives were approached by many other civil parties in their communities with sorrowful questions about the future of the case and the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia].”
“Moreover, they feel that the ECCC is not taking into consideration the civil parties’ and victims’ needs, and sees them as a superfluous, undesirable parties in ‘its’ trials,” it continues.
“Many civil parties have also reached a high age and are plagued by deteriorating health. Therefore, they wish to see a proper but prompt verdict and recognition of the horrible atrocities that they had to endure under the Khmer Rouge.”
Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the war crimes tribunal, responded to the civil parties’ concerns on Monday, saying the court understood that the victims were impatient, but that he did not think “anyone should pass premature judgment” on the trial before it was finished.
Regarding calls for a speedier trial, Mr. Olsen said he believed everyone involved wanted proceedings to be expedited. However, he said, “expedited proceedings doesn’t mean you can cut corners.”
“Ieng Thirith has been assessed on at least two different occasions by medical experts and their assessments were unanimous,” he said of the victims’ concerns regarding Ieng Thirith’s sanity.
In terms of the money earned by court staff, Mr. Olsen would not be specific on their salaries—which are known to be extremely generous—saying simply that salaries on the international side were regulated by the global U.N. salary system.
Some civil parties on Monday also said they wanted the tribunal to look into the assets of the war crimes defendants with a view to providing reparations.
“The cremation of Ieng Sary was like the cremation of late King Father Norodom Sihanouk,” said Ms. Chanboreth, referring to the elaborate funeral in Banteay Meanchey province last week. “The tribunal should conduct a concrete investigation” into the wealth of the Khmer Rouge leaders, she added.
Civil parties can seek collective and moral reparations, but not individual monetary compensation.
“If they [civil parties] want reparations, they should file these to the relevant office in the ECCC,” Mr. Olsen said.
Separately, a number of civil society groups—the Applied Social Research Institute of Cambodia, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, and the Victims Association of Democratic Kampuchea—released a joint statement Monday asking that Case 002 be expanded in order to include more charges.
The court should consider moving the focus from the evacuation of Phnom Penh and forced transfer of civilians to “the most egregious violations alleged against the remaining defendants,” including forced marriage and genocide, it says.
The Trial Chamber is currently deliberating whether to continue with the full scope of the trial, or revert back into “mini-trials” which look at specific areas—like the evacuation of Phnom Penh—only. A decision on this matter is expected to be handed down Friday.