Assembly Begins Debate on KR Trial Law

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the first chapter of the Khmer Rouge trial draft law in the opening day of parliamentary debate on the legislation Cam­bodians and international observ­ers alike hope will bring to justice some of the former leaders of the ultra-Maoist regime.

After months of stalls and false starts the draft legislation was finally pushed through the legislative commission and on to the Assembly floor, where it is ex­pected to be passed in full in early January.

Though there was some speculation that Parliamentarians would demand significant chang­es to the draft law, which some gov­ernment officials see as giving too much authority to foreign judges, members of all three parties expressed their support for the draft as is.

All 98 of the 122 Assembly members present voted for the chap­ter—the first of 19 that makes up the 48-article draft law.

The chapter debated Friday dealt with the scope of the trial, which will cover crimes alleg­edly committed only by the Khmer Rouge’s top leaders be­tween April 17, 1975 and Jan 6, 1979.

Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Hong Sok Heang was hesitant to com­pletely endorse this chapter, saying that it could allow only aging or already dead Khmer Rouge officials to be blamed while others who should be held accountable for the estimated 1.7 million deaths during the late 1970s remain unscrutinized.

“I am worried because that means all the fault could be drop­ped on the most senior lead­er, Pol Pot, and he has already died. I am not very satisfied with this chap­ter…it needs to be more clearly stated,” he said.

But speaking on behalf of his entire party, Sam Rainsy said he “completely supports the draft,” which other officials hope will bring closure to Cambodians who suffered under the brutal regime.

“Don’t let a killer kill us twice—first our body and then our memory,” said Finance Minister Keat Chhon said.

The draft legislation proposes to create three tribunals, with five judges—three Cambodian and two foreign—at the trial level; four Cambodians and three foreigners at the appeals stage; and five Cambodians and four foreigners at the supreme court level.

Rulings will require majorities at all levels of the trial, which will be held in Phnom Penh in Khmer, with English, French and Russian translations.

But even the rapid passage of the draft law first through the Assembly, and then the Senate and the Constitutional Council, doesn’t guarantee a speedy trial, government officials acknowledged Friday.

“I cannot say how many years, but it will take time [to implement the law],” National Assembly Pres­ident Prince Norodom Ran­ariddh said after Friday’s session. Debate will resume Jan 2.



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