Plagued by long delays and corruption allegations, the special court prosecuting Cambodia’s former Khmer Rouge leaders on genocide charges is running short of money months before its first trial is set to start.
The court, which was set up by the United Nations and Cambodia’s government two years ago, needs $43.8 million to continue operating through 2009, administrators said Tuesday in Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.
“The money is not going to come easily,” Knut Rosandhaug, the court’s Norwegian deputy director of administration, told reporters. “We have to work for the money.”
The tribunal is holding five former Khmer Rouge officials on charges stemming from the deaths of at least 1.7 million people during the Communist regime’s reign of terror from 1975 to 1979. The charges include murder and crimes against humanity.
The prisoners are elderly, and most are in failing health, so many Cambodians fear that the suspects may die before survivors’ long wait for justice is over.
After almost a decade of bickering between the U.N. and Cambodia’s government over the court’s rules, the special court finally began work in 2006 with a combination of foreign and local judges and support staffers.
The tribunal was originally expected to cost $56.3 million for three years. But the estimated budget has ballooned to $143 million for a five-year term ending in 2010, the administration said Tuesday.
So far, Japan is the only country to answer the tribunal’s pleas for more funds. By far the court’s largest foreign donor, Japan pledged $3 million last week, raising its total donation to more than $24 million.
Last year, the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York law reform organization founded by billionaire George Soros, said judges and other tribunal staff were forced to pay kickbacks to keep their jobs.
The U.N. said in April that an audit showed that management reforms had produced “significant improvement” in the court’s administration. But many Cambodians are losing faith in the promise that Khmer Rouge leaders will have to answer for their crimes.
Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot, whose real name was Saloth Sar, escaped justice when he died in 1998 in the northern Cambodian jungle.
He was Brother No. 1 in a ruthless revolution that emptied the cities, forcing millions of people to work on collective farms where many died of starvation or exhaustion.
The tribunal’s prisoners awaiting trial are:
* Kaing Geuk Eav, 65, also known as Duch, a former high school math teacher who was director of the notorious S-21 prison where more than 14,000 of the Khmer Rouge’s victims died. Most were Communist Party members who Khmer Rouge guerrillas accused of betraying the revolution.
Also known as Tuol Sleng, the prison was a converted high school compound, with classrooms turned into torture and execution chambers.
Duch has been in detention for more than nine years. The youngest of the tribunal’s prisoners, he is expected to be the first to stand trial, but not before September. He has admitted his guilt but says he was only following orders. The rest of the accused insist that they are innocent.
* The highest-ranking detainee is Nuon Chea, 82. He was Brother No. 2 and complained in an interview last year before his arrest that he had heart problems.
As deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea, the Khmer Rouge’s official name, he had “effective control” over the regime’s detention centers and also directed “forcible transfers of the population, enslavement, forced labor and other inhumane acts,” the prosecution alleges.
* Khieu Samphan, 76, head of state in the Khmer Rouge government, says he was just a figurehead and had no real power in the regime. Khieu’s lawyer said this month that the prisoner was rushed to a hospital with high blood pressure on May 21, and is now paralyzed on one side from an apparent stroke.
* Ieng Sary, 82, Pol Pot’s former minister of foreign affairs, was arrested along with his wife, Ieng Thirith, 76, former minister of social action, in late 2007.
Ieng Sary has been treated at a hospital for numerous ailments since his arrest and is awaiting a court ruling on a request to be transferred to a hospital until his health improves.