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Cambodia: ‘Moral strength’ for Khmer Rouge trial

Cambodia: UN official urges ‘moral strength’ as judges sworn in for Khmer Rouge trial

Welcoming the swearing in today of judges for Cambodia's long-awaited trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, accused of horrific crimes, including mass killings, during the 1970s, the United Nations Legal Counsel called on these officials to show the “moral strength” to help create a culture of accountability to replace “the sinister culture of impunity.”

Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel, speaking in Phnom Penh, told the international and Cambodian judges and prosecutors that the swearing-in was an “historic landmark” on the road to “justice and sustainable peace,” although much remained to be done.

“There will be moments of great satisfaction, but also moments of doubt. It is at such times, honourable judges and prosecutors of the Extraordinary Chambers, that your best qualities will be required: moral strength and the determination to reach our goal,” he told an audience that also included high-level Cambodian Government and other officials.

“You are directly associated with a historical enterprise. In fact, you are its actors. You are writing yourselves into history. Cambodian history, as well as that of an international community increasingly engaged, here and elsewhere, in creating a culture of accountability to replace the sinister culture of impunity.”

Mr. Michel also thanked Cambodia’s Government for helping set up the Chambers, and Member States, various organizations and the media for their support, but he gave special emphasis in his remarks to ordinary people.

“Your country, my Cambodian friends, has lived tragic moments, moments which can be counted in days, months, and years. Many lost their lives,” he noted. “You are thirsty for peace. You want to move forward together to a better future. Today, in cooperation with your Government, the international community answers your call and offers you its full support.”

Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the trial court and a Supreme Court within the Cambodian legal system will investigate those most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.

The three-year budget for the trials is about $56.3 million, of which $43 million is to be paid by the UN and $13.3 million by the Government of Cambodia.

At last year’s pledging conference to support the UN assistance to the trials, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that the crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge rule “were of a character and scale that it was still almost impossible to comprehend,” adding that “the victims of those horrific crimes had waited too long for justice.”

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