The National Assembly on Wednesday voted overwhelmingly to allow the government to detain captured rebel leader Ta Mok and other former Khmer Rouge leaders for up to three years without a trial, instead of the six months mandated under current law.
The provision, passed by 93 of 106 parliamentarians present, reaffirms the right of most criminal suspects to face a trial within six months. But the three-year detention period would apply to those suspected of “war crimes, crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity as stated in international convention that Cambodia has signed in the United Nations.”
The National Assembly is slated to convene again today to vote on the other two parts of the law, including a provision to annul articles in Cambodia’s penal code that contradict the new law. The legislation still must be approved by the Senate and King Norodom Sihanouk, or the acting head of state in his absence.
“What the National Assembly has decided this morning means that now…criminals can be investigated in a more—let’s say—comprehensive manner,” said Assembly President and Funcinpec Party President Prince Norodom Ranariddh. “And we do need such a law in the question of this prosecution.’’
Opposition party parliamentarians blasted the proposal, warning it was politically motivated and could be abused in the future. Brandishing case studies and statistics, they said the government routinely ignores the six month trial requirement anyway, in some cases jailing suspects for up to six years without a trial.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Sam Sundoeun said during debate that the law “will create more human rights abuses in Cambodia if we pass it because they’ll take it as a pretext to jail someone innocent for up to three years without trial.’’
it was politically motivated and could be abused in the future. Brandishing case studies and statistics, they said the government routinely ignores the six month trial requirement anyway, in some cases jailing suspects for up to six years without a trial.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Sam Sundoeun said during the debate that the law “will create more human rights abuses in Cambodia if we pass it because they’ll take it as a pretext to jail someone innocent for up to three years without trial.’’ Later, Sam Rainsy lawmakers faxed a letter to Prince Ranariddh asking him to suspend today’s session.
Wednesday’s action will allow the government to scrap plans for a September trial prosecuting Ta Mok for violating a 1994 law banning the Khmer Rouge.
CPP politicians had warned a trial could reveal embarrassing details about the collusion of some officials with Khmer Rouge elements in the months leading up to the 1997 factional fighting. Some analysts see the legislation as an attempt to stall a genocide tribunal.
Ta Mok likely will remain in custody while a Geneva Conventions law on genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity is drafted and passed.
UN experts are slated to arrive Aug 25 to help draft the law as well as hammer out an deal with the government over international involvement in a tribunal aimed at prosecuting those responsible for the estimated 1.7 million Cambodian deaths during the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime.
Chhuor Leang Huot, a CPP lawmaker, on Wednesday dismissed opposition party concerns about the detention legislation.
“We are doing this law only to give enough time for the court to investigate more clearly about the guilt of those who are involved in war crimes, genocide,” he said.
“We have no purpose to do anything contrary to this.”
Responding to opposition party concerns that a three-year delay could create a situation in which elderly KR leaders die prior to trial, Chhuor Leang Huot said: “Don’t worry, it won’t be too late to try them. We need more time to investigate, and if we can’t try them in life and if they die they will be tried in hell.’’
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, expressed concerns that many lawmakers don’t understand the meaning of the terms in the Geneva Convention.
The definition of genocide, for instance, might not be as easy to prove in court against Ta Mok as crimes against humanity, even though many lawmakers repeatedly refer to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge as genocide.
(Additional reporting by Adam Piore)