I first went to Cambodia in early 2009 to cover the start of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. I liked the country so much I decided to move there. I spent the next couple years based in Phnom Penh, but travelling and reporting from around the region. Many of the stories I did in Cambodia focused on the tribunal.
I had been in Sierra Leone while a United Nations-backed court tried senior leaders or those considered most responsible for atrocities committed in that country’s recent war. But as challenging as that process was, the situation in Cambodia was far more complicated. It had taken a decade of negotiations to get the Cambodian government agree to the trials. And they were taking place 30 years after the horror of the Khmer Rouge, who presided over the deaths of about a quarter of the population in the space of less than four years.
The regime’s genocidal architect, Pol Pot, was long dead. But the Cambodian government agreed to try four other top Khmer Rouge leaders as well as the head of a notorious torture prison. But when prosecutors sought to bring charges against five additional Khmer Rouge officials, the government pulled no punches in registering its resistance to expanding the scope of prosecution.
I reported on the issue as it turned into a full-blown scandal, with allegations of political interference at the UN-backed tribunal. The court’s investigative judges – a Cambodian and his international counterpart, a German – issued a statement condemning such accusations and referencing one of my stories in particular. Soon afterwards, I received confidential documents outlining the cases against the additional suspects. The stories from those documents added to the controversy, as tribunal staff quit in protest amidst allegations that the investigative judges were trying to bury the cases. The international judge eventually resigned.