Who believes in a Phnom Penh trial?

19 July 2004 by Christine Chaumeau

On 15 July the Cambodian national assembly re-elected Prime Minister Hun Sen and endorsed the new coalition government, thus putting an end to a year-long political crisis. This turn of events should help to unblock the vote on the bill to create a court to try the Khmer Rouge leadership for genocide. For the majority of Cambodian observers, the prospect of such a trial does not inspire enthusiasm. It is seen as a sea-snake that has plagued the troubled waters of Cambodian politics for the last seven years, or, in the words of one observer, "a Dracula whose creators want to get rid of it but who survives in spite of the blows struck against it."

"This is probably the most difficult case that the international community has had to judge since the birth of the concept of international justice, yet we are trying to do it with the minimum possible expenditure," summarises one Western observer. "The crimes were committed thirty years ago. Witnesses no longer have good recall of the events, and it is also difficult to find witnesses whose memory has not been clouded by political issues. There are far fewer documents available than in other cases and it will also be difficult to establish the chain of custody. None of the neighboring countries involved, in particular China and Vietnam, support this initiative, and the United Nations and Cambodia are not enthusiastic about it either. Finally, it will be the first verdict handed down against a Communist regime."

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