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Tribunal Risks Legitimacy If More Suspects Aren’t Indicted, Critics Say

In this photo released by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, Judges and clerks of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal are standing inside the court hall of the U.N.-backed war crimes tribunal in Phnom Penh, file photo.

Independent monitors at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal say the court must charge additional suspects in two more cases, or risk losing its legitimacy.

The court’s international investigating judge has charged former Khmer Rouge cadre Im Chaem, Ao An and Meas Muth with atrocity crimes, in the killings of hundreds of thousands of people under the regime. However, they have not been arrested or officially indicted.

That stands in stark contrast to the way the first defendants were treated: swiftly charged, arrested and indicted, then held by the court for trial. If the next three suspects are not treated similarly, the court will lose support, critics say.

“This is a tremendous setback in that it signals to the Khmer people that truth and justice are hollow concepts,” James Tyner, a professor at Kent State University, in Ohio, told VOA Khmer. “Equally important—and speaking primarily of the United Nations—this is an important moment. How can those men and women risking their lives throughout the Middle East, for example, take seriously the United Nations today when it so clearly has failed to promote justice in the past?”

The tribunal’s actions in these cases give the appearance that “allegations of injustices will not be pursued and that there is minimal interest in holding accountable those responsible for their actions,” he said.

Peter Maguire, a legal scholar who has written a book about the Khmer Rouge, said the UN should not continue to pursue suspects.

“Either Cambodia delivers the suspects or the UN leaves Cambodia and the tribunal after they complete Case 002,” he said, referring to the case currently before the court, to try former regime leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan for atrocity crimes. “For the UN to continue this game, they look ridiculous.”

Cambodian and UN officials say they are cooperating, but that they cannot interfere in the work of the hybrid court. A tribunal official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said work is continuing in the cases against the three suspects, but there are a lot of issues to work through. Charged persons are not always necessarily arrested in Cambodia’s court system, the tribunal official said.

Still, many survivors of the regime are losing patience with the court. Sum Rithy, a civil party complainant in cases 003 and 004, said the court’s inaction has caused him suffering.

“If the court doesn’t take action on cases 003 and 004, victims across the nation will be very much disappointed,” he said.

The tribunal has so far only completed one full trial since 2006, but is has spent about $200 million.