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Don't pave Cambodia's flawed path to justice

The tribunal to try ex-Khmer Rouge leaders needs reform, then funds.

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Five high-profile members of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge government are finally in detention awaiting trial. It's historic progress toward long-awaited justice for the brutal regime that caused the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians in the late-1970s.

The United Nations-backed tribunal set up in Cambodia to try these men is running out of money and is seeking additional funds from donor nations. The United States indicated last month that it may reverse policy and begin funding the court.

There remain, however, legitimate concerns about the potential for corruption and the lack of judicial independence in Cambodia. A shift in US policy would be premature.

The tribunal – established to bring to trial "senior leaders" and "those most responsible" for the country's massive death toll – has undoubtedly made significant progress. The symbolism of having five ex-leaders of the notorious Khmer Rouge under arrest is enormous in a country where impunity is the norm. Clint Williamson, US ambassador for war crimes, has noted that the tribunal "is making progress and moving in a very positive direction."

Not all the news from Phnom Penh is so good. In recent months the tribunal has been shaken by a series of scandals. Open Society Justice Initiative, a legal group, raised allegations last February of chronic mismanagement and indicated that the Cambodian staff – including the judges – have to kick back part of their salaries in exchange for their appointments.

An internal audit, made public in October only after portions of it were leaked, uncovered a raft of problems at the tribunal. These included: an inadequate oversight mechanism, Cambodian staff hired without meeting the minimum job requirements, artificially high pay scales, and hiring practices so flawed that the auditors recommended that every Cambodian hired at the tribunal be fired.

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