Cambodian and international judges announced guiding rules for a UN-backed genocide trial yesterday, putting aside the last major roadblock to much-delayed trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
The Cambodian and UN appointed judges unanimously agreed to the rules on Tuesday following two weeks of meetings, they said at a joint news conference in Cambodia's capital, ending six months of sometimes rancorous disagreement between the two groups on how to move ahead with the trials.
The announcement should please survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, who have waited so long for justice that many have doubted a trial will ever take place. Many also fear that the aging defendants could die before being brought to justice.
Some 1.7 million people died from hunger, disease, overwork and execution as a result of the radical policies of the communist Khmer Rouge during its horrific 1975-1979 rule.
"Now that the rules have been adopted we can move foreward," Kong Srim, a Cambodian judge with the UN-backed genocide tribunal, read from the statement. "The co-investigating judges will begin the judicial process as soon as they receive their first case from the co-prosecutors."
Co-prosecutor Robert Petit said that should be within weeks.
"Although it's impossible to say when the first accused will appear before [the judges], I think it's safe to say the process is going to get under way within the next weeks," Petit said.
Cambodia and the UN created the genocide tribunal last year under an agreement they reached in 2003. Earlier hopes to convene trials this year were dashed by the disputes between the Cambodian and UN-appointed judges over the past six months, mainly about guidelines for trials.
Expensive legal fees imposed by Cambodia's bar association for foreign lawyers wishing to take part in the tribunal were the latest hindrance, before that issue was resolved in April.
With a US$56.3 million budget, the tribunal is supposed to complete its work within a three-year timeframe.
However, the judges were sworn in last July and the delays have meant that one year already has been lost without anyone even being charged.
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