"Mr. Nuon Chea said he was unhappy with the court. Well, I wasn't so happy to see him either!" said Prach Vanna, a victim who was watching in the audience. "It wasn't much of a surprise to see him complaining."
The trial so far has been largely procedural, with evidence hearing delayed until early 2012. There are serious concerns that one or more of the defendants will not live through the end of the proceedings, which will likely last for years. Ieng Thirith is already displaying signs of dementia and may not be able to be tried at all. But the very fact that the case is creeping forward is a powerful symbol of justice for Cambodians, given the impunity and corruption that have plagued this nation for decades.
But just at the moment the tribunal, the culmination of 14 years of painstaking negotiations, should be enjoying its greatest triumph, it is being riven by internal politics. The conflicts are over two other cases, known in court parlance as 003 and 004, that many people -- including the Cambodian prime minister and his entire government -- hope never get tried at all.
The United Nations agreed to back the $150-million tribunal on the condition that it enjoy complete judicial independence from the Cambodian government. Its "hybrid" structure, with Cambodian and foreign judges and lawyers working in teams, was meant to provide a check against the hopelessly corrupt Cambodian judicial system. Meanwhile, the influence of the foreigners would, theoretically, help train Cambodian jurists -- who tend to range from breezily inept to brazenly crooked -- in international best practices.
Instead, it has worked the other way around, as the highly politicized Cambodian judicial system has seeped into the fabric of the court, apparently influencing both local and foreign judges alike. Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose musings and caprices are as good as law here, has insisted for at least a decade, loudly and publicly, that he would only allow five suspects to be prosecuted at the court.Kuch Naren contributed reporting from Phnom Penh
Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier himself who defected to Vietnam early enough to avoid prosecution, has repeatedly warned of mass bloodshed and civil war if additional Khmer Rouge were pursued. And it turns out the UN should probably have listened a little harder to what he was saying all along.
In 2009, over the objections of the court's Cambodian prosecutor, international prosecutors opened two new cases, known as 003 and 004. They dealt with crimes committed by two revolutionary military commanders -- the heads of the Khmer Rouge navy and air force -- as well as three mid-level leaders allegedly responsible for over 100,000 deaths at brutal prison camps and worksites in the country's north and northwest.
The two commanders, Meas Muth and Sou Met, have since become high-ranking members of Cambodia's military, where they still are. One of the other leaders, Im Chaem, is a local government official in Hun Sen's political party. Less is known about the other two, known as Grandfather Tith and Grandfather An, but one is believed to be a wealthy businessman in Phnom Penh.