Khmer Rouge judges begin workshop


Tuesday, July 4, 2006 Posted: 0343 GMT (1143 HKT)

Young Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1975.

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) -- Newly sworn-in judges and prosecutors for a historic U.N.-backed tribunal in Cambodia began drawing up their plans Tuesday for trying former Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity, an official said.

The Cambodian and foreign judicial officials began a four-day workshop to discuss the "critical" points of convening the trials that are expected to start in 2007, said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the tribunal's administration office.

The swearing-in of 17 Cambodian and 10 United Nations-appointed foreign jurists on Monday marked a major step forward in the process of seeking justice for the victims of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, whose extremist policies in the late 1970s are estimated to have taken 1.7 million lives.

"They will be discussing prosecutorial and judicial planning and their code of ethics. All these points are critical for their work," Reach Sambath said.

The foreign jurists will be studying Cambodian traditions and the laws under which the Khmer Rouge tribunal was established, while their Cambodian counterparts will learn about international laws and other genocide tribunals.

Nicolas Michel, U.N. Under Secretary-General for legal affairs, called the swearing-in "a historic landmark" but also said it was "just the beginning" step on the road to justice.

"There will be moments of great satisfaction, but also moments of doubt," he said Monday, urging the judges and prosecutors to act with professionalism and impartiality. "Your best qualities will be required: moral strength and the determination to reach our goal."

The tribunal offices were inaugurated early this year after Cambodia and the U.N. agreed in 2003 to jointly establish the tribunal.

Drawn-out negotiations that started in 1999 and funding problems have led some critics to suggest that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government has intentionally stalled the court process to avoid embarrassing Khmer Rouge members who have become government backers.

The Khmer Rouge movement collapsed in 1999, but none of its top leaders have been held accountable for the atrocities. Pol Pot died in 1998, but several of his top deputies, aging and infirm, still live freely in Cambodia.

Nuon Chea, the number two leader of the Khmer Rouge leadership, said Monday he would go before the tribunal.

"I will be glad to go so that people in my country and other countries will know the truth of what happened," he told The Associated Press in the northwestern town of Pailin, where he lives with other former top Khmer Rouge leaders.