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Despite Woes, Tribunal Seen Helping Justice System

Allegations of corruption aside, experts say the Khmer Rouge tribunal will help set a standard for Cambodia’s common justice system, while setting an example for international courts in the future.

Cambodia’s judicial system is widely seen as politically biased and corrupt, but as the UN-backed tribunal continues to try former leaders of the regime, it can serve as a model to the everyday courts and police.

“The tribunal has an impact beyond its own life,” said Gregory Stanton, president of Genocide Watch and the International Association of Genocide Scholars. “In other words, the judges who are Cambodian judges who are part of it will carry the experience into the future.”

The hybrid tribunal consists of UN- and nationally appointed staffs in the offices of prosecution and investigation and the Pre-Trial and Trial chambers of the court.

The so-called jurists have not seen eye-to-eye on every issue, and the prosecution office will lose its top UN jurist, Robert Petit, whose proposal to indict more leaders of the regime has met resistance from his Cambodian counterpart, Chea Leang.

The Khmer Rouge tribunal has also been dogged by allegations of mismanagement and corruption, and from Cambodian staff members who say they have had to pay kickbacks to senior government officials for their jobs.

In some way, however, the tribunal will create “a very good precedent” for future courts, Stanton told VOA Khmer in a recent interview.

“The trouble with international tribunals is they leave no legacy, whereas with a mixed tribunal like this one, it leaves a legacy in the country,” he said.

Alex Hinton is director of center for the Studies of Genocide and Human Rights at Rutgers University. An expert on Khmer Rouge atrocities, he has been closely watching the tribunal.

One of the most important aspects of the tribunal is its structure and the way it applies international law, which will be watched by many different observers, Hinton said in an interview.

“I’ve talked to judges who say this, [that] watching, sort of, how the international system works, how the rule of law is applied according to international standards, is something that, hopefully, will be a legacy, that judges who are involved in this, people who are involved in this, [and] law school students who are attending the trial will watch how this works, and that will have a long term impact,” he said.

In conceiving of a hybrid system that also allows the participation of civil parties—victims of the regime who can file suit alongside criminal proceedings— the Cambodian tribunal could be emulated by other courts, he said.

“The court, in terms of civil party rights and civil party presence, that’s another area where it’s really cutting-edge, in terms of making the international law where the civil parties are in the court room been represented, sitting alongside with prosecution,” Hinton said. “Never before have they had rights like they are having with this tribunal.”

Youk Chhang, director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, has similar views.

The tribunal has four noteworthy characteristics, he said: it is being undertaken with participation of people in the country were atrocity crimes were committed, provides international justice with a lower price tag, has made the arrest of suspects easier, and has witnesses and evidence close at hand.

“This court is special, as it is a foundation for a country that suffered from genocide to establish the rule of law, to reconcile, to teach students about the genocide, to create dialogue, and to encourage freedom of expression,” he said. “The court provides a higher standard of justice for the current Cambodian courts to follow.”

The tribunal will also leave materials, tools and resources as its legacy, which will help strengthen Cambodia’s own judicial system in the future, he said.

Mong Mony Chakriya, a Supreme Court judge with extensive experience in Cambodia’s system, said he hoped the tribunal would benefit Cambodia a great deal, beyond the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders.

“The establishment of [the tribunal] benefits our justice system,” he said. “In our society, people get justice, and those who work with international experts receive good experience in establishing our court system and our legal system in the future.”