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A number of countries-Bosnia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone-have used international tribunals to punish those who committed crimes against humanity and to confront their nation’s unpleasant past. Cambodia has tried to follow that road for nearly 30 years. The tribunal, marked by corruption, incompetence, and apathy, almost expired in April. But last-minute funding is allowing the tribunal to proceed, for now. If all goes as planned, the first of five former Khmer Rouge leaders will go on trial in October. The defendants are all at least 70 years old and include the Khmer Rouge deputy prime minister and the prison chief who oversaw its notorious “killing fields.” (Party leader Pol Pot died in 1998.) The Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia in the 1970s. The regime emptied cities in a quest to create an agricultural utopia. It also murdered millions of professionals, minorities, city dwellers, homosexuals, and anyone who wore glasses. Years of war and tumult followed. Vietnam finally drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. Even war criminals need lawyers, and the Khmer has Rupert Skilbeck, 36, a British barrister who defended former military leaders in Bosnia and Sierra Leone. Leading the prosecution is Robert Petit, 46, a Canadian who has prosecuted former war criminals in Rwanda, Kosovo, East Timor, and Sierra Leone. Why is justice so long in coming? For more than a decade, Cambodia was marked by violence between Vietnam and remaining Khmer Rouge fighters. Talks of a tribunal started when Cambodia set up a constitutional monarchy in 1993, but it wasn’t formed until 2001, when the nascent Cambodian government and the United Nations created the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia. Since then, the ECCC has not exactly been a model of efficiency. The international attorneys point to corruption on the Cambodian side, Cambodians allege mismanagement by tribunal organizers, and tribunal organizers say the funding by the United Nations was woefully inadequate. Other factors slowed the process further, such as the endless debate over legal procedures that has left the resulting system rife with redundancy. (For example, each defendant will be deposed four times.) Plus, decision making has been generally nonsensical, like holding the trials in a courthouse on a dirt road an hour outside the capital city where the entire staff resides. The tribunal was originally funded with $56 million, and the trials were scheduled to be completed by 2009. The trials will now cost upward of $170 million and are expected to run through 2011. The most recent infusion of money, courtesy of Australia, will run out long before then. But those involved, like Kelly Askin, senior legal officer for the Open Society Justice Initiative, are glad for the chance to keep the fight alive. “The court is too close to providing at least some measure of justice to the 1.7 million who did not survive the brutal Khmer Rouge policies to abandon it now,” she says.

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