There is no denying the fact that according to History, it is very tricky to put people on trial while a war is still in progress. Cambodia first approached the UN for assistance to conduct a trial in 1997. Since the civil war ended in 1998, the Royal Government and the UN have worked together towards implementing a new type of mixed national-international tribunal. It has taken some time to work out the details of this new style of court. In 1999 the Cambodian Government prearranged a Task Force to prepare for the trials and negotiate with the UN. The consultation with the UN were long and it is true to say that there were some misunderstandings and differences of opinion before both sides agreed in 2003 on the minutiae of international participation.
For over a quarter of a century the Cambodian people have waited for justice. Finally, the time has now come for the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those most answerable for serious crimes to be held responsible for their crimes and for the historical record to be set straight. The Extraordinary Chambers are designed to provide fair, public trials in conformity with international standards. The main goal is to endow with justice to the Cambodian people, those who died and the survivors. It is hoped that fair trials will ease the burden that weighs on the survivors. The trials are also for the new generation - to educate Cambodia’s youth about the darkest chapter in our country’s history.
By judging the criminals in fair and open trials and by punishing those most responsible, the trials will strengthen our rule of law and set an example to people who disobey the law in Cambodia and to cruel regimes worldwide. If criminals know that they will be held accountable, they may be deterred. By supporting and learning about justice, we can all contribute to the reconstruction of our society. In the spirit of achieving justice, truth and national reconciliation, the Cambodian Government and the UN decided that the court should limit prosecutions to the senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea who planned or gave orders, as well as those most responsible for committing serious crimes. It is expected that only a small number of people will fall within this limit and be tried. Over the years, tens of thousands of ordinary Khmer Rouge soldiers have defected to the Government. They have nothing to fear from this court. The policy of national reconciliation is still in place. Please remember that only the most culpable people will be tried under the law governing the special tribunal. The court will have the responsibility to decide exactly who was a ‘Senior Leader’ and who was ‘most responsible’ for the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge. The court will only seek out those people, and not every former member of Khmer Rouge or every person in the villages of Cambodia who may have committed crimes during the Khmer Rouge period.
Low level and middle-ranking Khmer Rouge members who are not most responsible for serious crimes will not be prosecuted. Many are now re-integrated into our society. Hopefully these individuals will live peaceful lives according to Buddhist principles and assist in the development of our country.
Rouge leaders will not be responsible for their parents’ or associates’ crimes. Nobody will be responsible for another person’s actions just because they are related to or associated with that person. The maximum sentence is life in prison and the minimum sentence is five years in prison. There will be no death penalty. The death penalty is unconstitutional in Cambodia. In addition, the court may order the confiscation of property or money that the defendant has acquired unlawfully or by criminal conduct. Any confiscated property will be turned over to the State. The Royal Government of Cambodia has stated that it will not request an amnesty or pardon for any person who may be investigated or convicted in these trials. In 1979 there was a genocide trial in Phnom Penh known as the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal. That tribunal tried Ieng Sary and Pol Pot and found both guilty of the crime of genocide, but neither of them appeared in court nor served any sentence. In 1996 the King granted a pardon to Ieng Sary for the sentence imposed when the People’s Revolutionary Tribunal tried him for genocide. It will be up to the judges to decide on the scope of this pardon. Even if he cannot be re-tried for genocide, there may be other charges that could be brought against him. This will depend on the evidence available.