PHNOM PENH —
Conflicting positions between prosecutors, civil party lawyers and defense lawyers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal mean that the scope of an upcoming trial for two aging regime leaders remains unclear.
The UN-backed court is currently planning the second phase of a two-part trial for leader Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan—the only two defendants left in custody—for later this year.
In a submission dated Jan. 31, prosecutors say they want only eight crime sites, including security centers and work camps, included in the scope of the trial. They also want to prosecute for Khmer Rouge crimes committed against the ethnic Vietnamese and Cham Muslim minorities.
In a separate submission to the court, lawyers for regime victims say they agree with the scope of sites, but they want the crimes of forced marriage and religious discrimination included in the prosecution.
Meanwhile, defense lawyers say they want more historical relevance added, including the role played by the Vietnamese government and the actions of rival factions vying for power with Pol Pot.
Deliberation over the scope of the next phase of the trial comes amid renewed promises from the Cambodian government and the UN to find funding for the court. However, some critics still worry the court will not be able to complete its work before the aging leaders die.
The UN and Cambodian sides agreed last week to enhance efforts to fund the court as it moves toward the next phase of the trial.
“The timing is perfect for both sides to cooperate now,” said John Ciorciari, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan and co-author of a book on the court, “Hybrid Justice.” “There is something that both want, and that is for the court’s next phase of operation to go smoothly.”
Peter Maguire, author of “Facing Death in Cambodia,” told VOA Khmer that Noun Chea and Khieu Samphan continue to age, even as the court process continues.
“If the UN can move faster, they can at least complete parts of these trials within the lifetimes of the defendants,” he said. “As far as further trials, I am not optimistic.”
More trials—there are two more cases with investigating judges—would mean delving into the role of China, a longtime ally of Cambodia, including in modern times, in supporting the Khmer Rouge, he said. “And I don’t think they want to shine a bright light on that.”
Last week’s declaration of cooperation by both sides was encouraging, said Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which has a central role for the court in documenting the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.
“Even so, both parties must produce an exit strategy,” he said. “So that they can maintain their support from the international community.”
It remains unclear how the court will finish with the next two cases, which have been opposed by senior Cambodian officials and seem unlikely to proceed the longer the current trial takes.
Sum Rithy, one of few survivors of a Khmer Rouge prison, told VOA Khmer he welcomed the joint declaration of increased cooperation.
“I believe that the Khmer Rouge tribunal process is really coming to a conclusion, in the process of seeking justice for people all over the country,” he said.