Assembly Debates Khmer Rouge Tribunal

Members of a government task force to assemble a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders on Thurs­day lobbied parliament to accept their plan for a Cambodian-dominated court.

The group, headed by Minister of Cabinet Sok An, addressed a formal session of the National Assembly and heard debate from all sides on how involved the international community should be in the upcoming trial.

Most vocal against the government’s plan were Sam Rainsy Party members, who contend the courts are too biased and underdeveloped to hold a fair trial.

They favor an international tribunal like those in Yugoslavia and Rwanda, but task officials quickly quashed that notion.

“In the former Yugoslavia, the [Serbian] government is protecting criminals and will not hold a trial for them, so the international community had to step in,” Sok An said.

During an interview Thursday after the meeting at parliament, another task force member argued that Cambodia should not undergo a second UN spending frenzy like the costly 1993 UNTAC mission to oversee elections.

“In Yugoslavia, they spend 100 million dollars on a trial,” said Heng Vong Bunchhat, director of the legal reform unit at the Council of Ministers and a task force member who appeared before parliament.

 

another task force member argued that Cambodia should not undergo a second UN spending frenzy like the costly 1993 Untac mission to oversee elections.

“In Yugoslavia, they spend $100 million on a trial,” said Heng Vong Bunchhat, director of the legal reform unit at the Council of Ministers and a task force member who appeared before parliament.

“Who will pay for this here? We have no right to ask for more money for Cambodia. We are at peace now. We can do the work,” Heng Vong Bunchhat said.

Even though government leaders in 1997 requested “international assistance” from the UN, a truly international tribunal was rejected earlier this year when China threatened to veto it in the UN Security Council.

Since then, the government and the UN have sparred over how to conduct a “mixed” trial, where both Cambodian and foreign judges would serve on a court.

Currently, the government is preparing a draft law that likely would establish a court with a majority of Cambodian judges but require votes from foreign judges to make a ruling. They have pro­mised that this most recent plan, introduced by the US State Department, will be complete by Decem­ber.

During his address to parliament on Thursday, Om Yen­tieng, adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen, hinted the draft might miss the deadline.

“We hope to hold the trial in the first months of the year 2000,” he told the National Assembly.

What remains to be seen is how much—or whether—the UN will be involved in the trial. After a visit here last month, a top UN representative said the world body still awaits Cambodia’s draft before making its decision.

The government repeatedly has said it would “keep the UN informed” of its progress but would proceed with or without the UN’s help.

Heng Vong Bunchhat, however, said Thursday that as long as the differences between the government draft and the UN are not vast, the government will be willing to discuss the draft’s details with the UN.

“If they have some proposals and we can agree, why not? We are very open,” he said.

On a visit here this summer, UN officials submitted a draft for a mixed tribunal that gave foreign judges and prosecutors control over the trial. Their plan met with stark opposition from the government.

Since then, the task force elicited advice from independent UN member states to provide advice on the draft. In the last month, experts from Russia, India and France submitted their comments, which Heng Vong Bunchhat said now are being incorporated.

Consulting the government on the draft is Claude Gour, a French legal professor who taught Heng Vong Bunchhat and Prince Norodom Ranariddh when he studied in France.

(Additional reporting by The Associated Press)

 

© 1999 – 2015, The Cambodia Daily. All rights reserved No part of this article may be reproduced in print, electronically, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without written permission.