Mike Eckel: Cambodia's Kangaroo Court
Mike Eckel is now a freelance writer in Cambodia and a foreign correspondent who has worked throughout the former Soviet Union.
It was a damning indictment by any estimation: a 100-plus-page report published 10 years ago by a Khmer-speaking, British-based scholar of Cambodian history with the help of American University. The scholar, Stephen Heder, spent years compiling evidence of war crimes by seven top officials of the Khmer Rouge, the ultra-Marxist regime whose brutal efforts to create an agricultural utopia in Cambodia in the late 1970s wiped out up to a quarter of the population.
On June 27, Heder saw some of his efforts come to fruition: Three of the five officials still living went on trial in what has been called the most significant war crimes tribunal since the Nazi trials at Nuremberg.
What is more significant, however, is what Heder will likely never see: the prosecution of the two other remaining officials despite overwhelming evidence, years of official investigation, and hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the United Nations, the United States, and other donor countries.
The prosecution is mired in a dispute that has riven the U.N.-backed tribunal, with infighting between prosecutors and judges, dubious legal rulings, and inaction from its funders. The struggle is part of a larger tug of war pitting Cambodia's authoritarian prime minister against the international community. And from Heder's perspective, it's an outrage that in the end prompted his resignation from the tribunal, citing the "toxic atmosphere of mutual mistrust" at the "professionally dysfunctional office" of the investigating judges.
The dispute is threatening the legacy of the eight-year-old court, which was set up to help bring resolution to one of the grimmest chapters of the 20th century, whenan estimated 1.7 million Cambodians were murdered, starved, worked to death, or died of disease in the "Killing Fields" of the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule…
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