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Khmer Rouge tribunal prepares for first, and possibly only, verdict in Cambodia

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Already the government has shown reluctance to participate in investigations. Cambodian officials said it is unnecessary for government members to comply with court requests to be questioned as witnesses. Prime Minister Hun Sen said he would prefer to see the court fall apart than allow charges to come against a handful of additional suspects, as the prosecution intends.

Those statements, and other less obvious tactics, put extreme pressure on Cambodian court officials who must consider their employment prospects once the tribunal wraps up.

“In the end, the ability of individual Cambodian actors to resist interference by senior political figures and still maintain a position within the Cambodian legal system is limited,” the Open Society Justice Institute (OSJI) warned in a report this month. While OSJI said “political interference was not an important factor in the conduct of the Duch trial,” the watchdog indicated that pressure from government officials could undermine future trials, which promise to be far more politically charged.

Donors hesitant over interference, corruption

Such controversies do not strengthen the confidence of donors, upon whom the court depends for its survival. The tribunal, which has already cost about $100 million, is chronically short of cash. It was bailed out most recently by Japan, which announced early this month that it would provide $2.3 million to pay salaries of national staff.

The hybrid court places Cambodian staff alongside international staff, the latter of whom are directly employed by the United Nations and have not faced payroll troubles.

The tribunal is also blighted by unresolved allegations that Cambodian court employees were forced to pay kickbacks in order to obtain and keep their jobs.

Aging defendants

A further worry is that the painfully slow pace of justice may prevent further trials. No date has been set for the trial of top-level Khmer Rouge officials Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith, and Nuon Chea. All four suspects are elderly and have health problems. There are concerns that they may not live to face trial, particularly if Cambodian politicians engage in delay tactics.

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