Nearly three decades after Cambodia’s genocide began, the United Nations hoped on March 28 that it had raised enough money for trials of Khmer Rouge leaders still alive.
Nations at a pledging conference promised about US$38 million for the court action, with Japan alone saying it would contribute US$21 million. Cambodia will pay some US$13 million for the court, estimated to cost US$56.3 million over three-years.
“We had indicated we needed three-years of pledges and one-year’s contribution paid up for us to start,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan told reporters after the conference.
“So I suspect that some of the money would be released very early for us to have a year’s contribution in cash and then begin the proceedings,” not expected this year, he said.
An estimated 1.7 million people died of starvation, forced labour, disease or execution during the Khmer Rouge “killing fields,” from 1975 to 1979.
The Khmer Rouge leader, Pot, died in 1998. Many fear the rest of the aging leaders will die before they can face trial.
But before the trials begin, the United Nations has to certify that the Cambodian court meets international justice standards. The tribunals will have a sprinkling of international judges and prosecutors working alongside their Cambodian colleagues.
Sok An, Cambodia’s chief negotiator on the accord, hopes the tribunal will be set up this year to try up to 10 former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.
The trials are eagerly awaited by many Cambodians, many of whom are too young to remember the horrors of the 1975-79 regime ousted by a Vietnamese invasion.
Critics have accused Cambodia of foot-dragging over a tribunal, as some current government officials were once members of the Khmer Rouge, including prime minister Hun Sen, a former regimental commander/.
The Khmer Rouge was overthrown by Vietnam-backed rebels in 1979, who them put Hun Sen in power.