Khmer Rouge Tribunal building in Kambol, outside of Phnom Penh.
More than three decades have passed since 1.7 million people died in the killing fields of Cambodia. Yet the U.N.-Cambodian tribunal has yet to bring those former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime who are most responsible for the genocide to trial.
The long-delayed tribunal faces numerous obstacles. Not least among them is the passage of time.
Many Khmer Rouge leaders are either old or dead. Saloth Sar, better known as Pol Pot, died in 1998, a free man. Khieu Samphan, the Khmer Rouges’ former president, is 73 and recently suffered a stroke. Leng Sary, the Khmer’s former foreign minister is a frail 82, and Ta Mok, the regime’s former military chief, was hospitalized earlier this month. Among the youngest of those indicted to date is a 67-year-old known as Duch, who ran the notorious Tuol Sleng torture center in Phnom Pehn.
Time is truly of the essence for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which seeks to provide some measure of accountability and justice for one of the most heinous of 20th century atrocities.
But the tribunal’s future depends on the willingness of foreign donors to provide the assistance necessary to bring the five high-ranking former leaders of the Khmer Rouge now in detention on trial for crimes against humanity.
A U.N. spokesman estimates that the tribunal, which has a budget of $56.3 million, will run out of funds in six months due to unanticipated costs.
Recent U.N. reports have raised troubling questions about the tribunal’s administration, but many of the expenditures appear reasonable. For example, U.N. officials say the court needs to increase the number of translators to 40 from the current 14, and to create victim support and court transcription services.
Tribunal officials will soon approach foreign donors — including the United States, which did not contribute to the original budget — with an urgent request for additional funding. Providing that the tribunal can produce evidence of progress and actions taken to fix problems identified in the U.N. reports, the United States should lead the way in providing the assistance needed to make certain justice is done in Cambodia.
The international tribunals set up to deal with atrocities in Rwanda, the Balkans and Sierra Leone have proven to be expensive and imperfect instruments of justice. But they have served the profoundly necessary purpose of sending a message that justice, however delayed, awaits those who commit crimes against humanity.
The U.N.-Cambodian tribunal deserves the full and timely support of the United States and the rest of the world.