Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Cambodia hampers genocide tribunal, rights group says

AP , PHNOM PENH

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the Cambodian government to stop interfering in preparations for the Khmer Rouge genocide trials, prompting an official denial yesterday that authorities had done anything wrong.

The New-York based rights group was responding to a decision last week by international and Cambodian judicial officials to delay the adoption of rules that will govern the tribunal.

The two sides said they had encountered "substantive disagreement" in their goal to adopt 110 draft rules for running the proceedings, which are expected to begin next year.

HRW accused the government of intervening.

"Acting on instructions from government officials, Cambodian personnel participating in the meeting delayed adoption of the draft rules, reversing earlier progress in the drafting process," the rights group said in a statement on Tuesday.

"Government control over the Cambodian judiciary in the Khmer Rouge tribunal has always been a grave concern," Brad Adams, the group's Asia director, was quoted as saying in the statement.

The tribunal was created by a 2003 agreement between Cambodia and the UN after years of difficult negotiations to try to seek justice for crimes committed when the Khmer Rouge held power from 1975 to 1979.

The radical policies of the now-defunct communist group led to the deaths of some 1.7 million people from execution, overwork, disease and malnutrition.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith dismissed HRW's allegations as "politically motivated."

He said the tribunal organizers were just being "thorough" about working through complicated legal issues.

The rules cover every phase of the proceedings -- preliminary investigations, judicial investigations, the trial and appeals.

They also delineate the roles of all parties, including prosecutors, defense attorneys and defendants.

Critics have often described the Cambodian judiciary as weak, corrupt and susceptible to political influence.

Helen Jarvis, a spokeswoman for the tribunal, said there was no indication of any political interference from the Cambodian government.

But HRW said that "many of the Khmer Rouge leaders are old and increasingly frail, but until the rules are adopted, prosecutions and trials cannot move forward. Political interference has brought the whole process to a screeching halt."

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