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Khmer Rouge Trial May Heal Wounds of Cambodians - 2003-04-07


A U.N. expert on Cambodia says the planned trial of former Khmer Rouge officials on atrocities charges will be an important test for the country's judiciary. U.N. expert Peter Leuprecht welcomed Cambodia's decision to bring to justice former members of the Khmer Rouge. The trial, expected in the coming months, will be presided over by Cambodian and international judges in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Mr. Leuprecht, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's special representative to Cambodia, said the trial will bring final justice to a society still traumatized by the Khmer Rouge's gross rights violations, committed in the 1970s. Nearly two million Cambodians lost their lives as a result of starvation, forced marches, and political assassinations under the Khmer Rouge.

"The purpose of the trial is not only to render justice, but also to contribute to the healing of Cambodian society," he said. "Cambodians expect at last a trial and a serious trial. With the exception of Pol Pot who died in '98, all the other top leaders are still alive. People resent it that the perpetrators live much better than the victims."

Mr. Leuprecht says rampant corruption and the lack of trained judges have stymied Cambodia's legal system. But he says the decision, based on his recommendation, to raise judges' wages should ease the judges' temptation to take bribes. And he says the Phnom Penh government is considering further reforms, like increasing the number of trained lawyers and setting up a functioning bar association.

The U.N. investigator also pointed to concerns about human trafficking in Cambodia. Mr. Leuprecht says he has seen Cambodian girls as young as six years old sold or kidnapped into the sex slave trade. He says the Ministry for Women's Affairs is trying to act against the practice, but the police and judiciary are not doing their part.

"What I also tell the authorities is that they should not be mistaken. These are the victims. They should not be treated like perpetrators," said Mr. Leuprecht. "Because what is happening now is action is taken against the victims, but not against the perpetrators. By the way, all those who rescue victims of these practices run a fairly high risk because very often people would come with weapons and threaten."

Mr. Leuprecht charges that some Cambodian police officers are involved in the trafficking network.