Cambodia's genocide trial delayed until next year
October 2, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — The start of the first trial at Cambodia's genocide tribunal is likely to be delayed until early next year because more time is needed to deal with an appeal for more charges against a Khmer Rouge defendant, officials said Thursday. The news is likely to fuel further frustration among many Cambodians, who have been waiting for justice for nearly three decades after the Khmer Rouge held power in the late 1970s. The communist group implemented radical policies considered responsible for the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people from starvation, disease, overwork and execution. The U.N.-assisted tribunal is attempting to establish accountability for the atrocities committed in 1975-1979, and the first trial had been expected to start last month.
The latest delay was caused by an appeal by prosecutors to have additional charges lodged against Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, who headed the former S-21 prison, the Khmer Rouge's largest torture facility. "The chance to have a trial for Duch could be in 2009, early next year," said Reach Sambath, a tribunal spokesman, but he was also unable to give a specific date.
The tribunal's pretrial chamber set Dec. 5 for a ruling on the prosecutors' appeal, said Helen Jarvis, the tribunal's public affairs chief. "So there won't be anything before that," she said, also declining to be specific when asked about a possible starting date for a trial. She had previously said the trial for Duch was to open in September.
Youk Chhang — director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, an independent group researching Khmer Rouge crimes — was not happy with the delay. "What a shame. They surely can prolong the trials but not the lives of the defendants, including Duch," he said. "The hopes of the victims remain scattered at this moment." The 65-year-old Duch is the youngest of the five Khmer Rouge who have been indicted, and all have health problems.
In August, the investigating judges concluded their yearlong investigation into Duch's case, ordering the defendant to stand trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes. But afterward the prosecutors objected, saying the charges were insufficient as they might prevent a full accounting for Duch's criminal responsibility during his tenure at the prison. They said they wanted Duch additionally charged with homicide and torture — crimes under Cambodian national law — and also with joint criminal enterprise for actions that occurred inside S-21 prison.