Asia-Pacific

Khmer Rouge tribunal: UN rebuffs Cambodia criticism

A general view shows the courtroom during the hearing of former Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs Ieng Sary at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia (ECCC) in Phnom Penh on February 11, 2010
Activists said the tribunal covered up its lack of proper investigations

The UN has defended its Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, amid claims that a case against genocide suspects has been closed without proper inquiries.

The UN promised that reasons for dropping cases would be made public in the future, and insisted the judges were acting independently.

On Tuesday, activists accused the tribunal of bowing to pressure from the Cambodian government.

Judges closed a case against several Khmer Rouge officials in April.

That case was the third of four separate investigations undertaken by the UN tribunal.

So far only one former Khmer Rouge member has been convicted of crimes against humanity - Comrade Duch, the former head of a notorious prison where thousands were tortured.

A second case against the four remaining national leaders of the movement is due to begin later this month.

The Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, under the leadership of Pol Pot, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians from 1975 to 1979.

Basic errors

The current Cambodian government has repeatedly opposed efforts to widen the tribunal's inquiries, and insisted that there should be no further trials after that of the four leaders.

In a report released on Tuesday, the US-based Open Society Justice Initiative strongly criticised the work of the judges on the case that was dropped in April - known as case number 003.

"The co-investigating judges failed to carry out such basic investigative acts as interviewing suspects and other witnesses, or conducting basic field investigations," the report said.

The report claimed that tribunal workers then stuffed the case files with documents from other cases in a bid to cover up the lack of a proper investigation.

The group said that the Cambodian government had forced the tribunal to stall the case for 20 months.

There were strong indications that the investigation "failed to comply with international standards of effectiveness, independence, promptness and public scrutiny", the report said.

The BBC's Guy De Launey, in Phnom Penh, says international staff at the court have also complained of a lack of backing from the UN.

The UN said in a statement that it could not comment on the specifics of the investigation because it remained "the subject of judicial consideration".

But the statement added: "The order [closing case number 003] must include reasons, which will appropriately be available for public scrutiny.

"The United Nations, working closely with donor states, will continue to strongly support the work of the ECCC [Khmer Rouge tribunal]."

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