By Raphael Minder in Hong Kong
Published: August 14 2008
The tribunal charged with delivering justice for the victims of Cambodia’s 1970s genocide is finally set to bring its first defendant to trial, indicting the commandant of an infamous Khmer Rouge torture centre in Phnom Penh for crimes against humanity.
The indictment of Kang Kek Ieu (pictured), better known as Duch, was ann-oun-ced this week as the United Nations-backed tribunal found itself under the spotlight following corruption allegations.
Officials at the court -celebrated the indictment, however, as a signal that its work was starting in earnest. “The bell is now ready to ring and we are really pleased with this, because this really responds to the demands of the public, both in Cambodia and abroad,” said Reach Sambath, a spokesman, who added that he expected Duch’s trial to start by early October.
Duch is one of only five Khmer Rouge leaders to have been charged by the tribunal seeking justice on behalf of the estimated 1.7m Cambodians who died under the regime between 1975 and 1979. He was charged with overseeing Tuol Sleng, a former school that was converted into a political prison and interrogation centre in which thousands died.
Meanwhile, the UN Development Program-me, which manages international funding for the trial, has withheld money under inst-ruction from donors, including the European Union and Australia because of alleged kickbacks involving Cambodian employees.
The court was set up jointly by Cambodian and international authorities and has a staff of 350, including 250 Cambodians. “We really hope that this [fund withholding] is a temporary delay,” said Helen Jarvis, a tribunal official. “For the Cambodians not to have been paid since the end of June is getting a little -difficult.”
The trial is likely to spark mixed emotions among a population mostly born after the Khmer Rouge atrocities and frustrated by the delay in bringing the regime’s leadership to justice.
Ms Jarvis cited a recent survey by the International Republican Institute, the US-based political development group, which found that 86 per cent of respondents supported putting Khmer Rouge leaders on trial.
The latest corruption allegations could add to concernat ballooning costs. The establishment of a tribunal was agreed in principle in 1999 but it was only set up in 2006 after extended debate between international donors and Cambodia on its organisation.
Mr Sambath said spending had not exceeded that of other international tribunals. The court had an initial three-year budget of $56.3m (€38m, £30m).