Challenges for Khmer Rouge trials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 08 March, 2009, 12:00am

Ahead of the first trial of a Khmer Rouge leader at the end of this month, a chief prosecutor has questioned whether the trial will be just about the allegations against the leader of Cambodia's most notorious prison in the late 1970s or also an opportunity to tell Cambodians about their own history.

Anees Ahmed, senior assistant prosecutor for United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials, also highlighted how the trials of Khmer Rouge leaders would be a challenge in terms of crimes that have never previously been prosecuted by such a tribunal, and in the case of Khmer Rouge leader Ieng Sary they will have to assess whether the pardon of former King Norodom Sihanouk still stands if the issue is one of genocide.

Mr Ahmed was talking at the law school of City University on Friday about the challenges facing the hybrid court consisting of international and domestic judges. The first trial, which will start on March 30, is that of the former leader of S21, the Phnom Penh prison where Kaing Guek Eav, otherwise known as Duch, allegedly oversaw the torture and deaths of thousands of Cambodians.

Mr Ahmed leads the prosecution teams in the cases of the two most senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge - Nuon Chea and Ieng Sary.

'Both Pol Pot and Ieng Sary were prosecuted in a very short trial and convicted in absentia,' he said. 'But in 1996 the king of Cambodia granted an amnesty.'

No pardons are allowed under international laws on genocide.

Other thorny questions, Mr Ahmed said, surround the definition of genocide and acts that might not have been considered crimes at the time, such as forced marriages, starvation as a crime against humanity, and the denial of medical services.

A major issue has also been deciding what the tribunal's role is.

'The story of the Khmer Rouge has never been told in Cambodia,' he said. 'It has never been taught in schools. Do you tell the full story or just prosecute 15 people and close its doors?'