Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer announced on Thursday a pledge of $1 million to offset the cost of establishing a Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia, and said that Australia has also launched an $8.5 million program to tackle human trafficking in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries.
The Khmer Rouge trial contribution will be distributed over three years while an additional $266,000 has been provided to the Documentation Center of Cambodia to assist in the collection of material on the Khmer Rouge regime.
As Cambodia’s largest repository of documentary evidence on Khmer Rouge era crimes, the Documentation Center is expected to play a leading role in criminal investigations when international and Cambodian judges begin legal proceedings in the forthcoming tribunal.
“Australia has put its political weight behind international efforts to establish a Khmer Rouge tribunal,” Downer said in a statement.
“The establishment of a tribunal will demonstrate Cambodia’s commitment to the principles of justice, which must be the foundation of any stable democracy,” Downer added.
Downer, who is in Phnom Penh for this week’s regional ministerial meetings, was asked by a reporter if the Cambodian government had given Australia a “money-back guarantee” that it would finally hold the long-awaited Khmer Rouge trial.
“[Prime Minister] Hun Sen told us that the legislation was now going to the parliament and hopefully it will pass through the parliament very soon,” Downer said.
“We have, as you would appreciate, been pushing for the establishment of a tribunal. There has been a rather agonizing debate,” he said.
“We are glad that the UN and Cambodia have now reached some accommodation,” he said.
Following the signing earlier this month of a Khmer Rouge trial agreement between Cambodia and the UN, the world body’s chief legal counsel, Hans Corell, said an appeal would be launched to source funds for the tribunal, which is estimated to cost about $20 million.
Several UN member countries, including India, Japan, Russia, Britain and France, are expected to contribute funds or legal experts to the proceedings.
Downer also announced on Thursday that the Australian government will provide $8.5 million to combat human trafficking in Southeast Asia.
“We hope that this will make a contribution, particularly in countries like Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Burma, to the problem of people trafficking, particularly trafficking of women and children,” Downer said on the sidelines of regional meetings.
“[Human trafficking is] a very ugly, very grizzly trade, and we think that more needs to be done to address it,” he said.
Commenting on recent arrest of suspected Islamic militants in Cambodia, Downer praised the Cambodian authorities and said police officers here may be in line for training in counter-terrorism methods by Australian experts.
“We were very pleased with the recent arrests made here in Cambodia. Things are heading in the right direction in terms of international cooperation and regional cooperation to counter-terrorism,” he said.
“But I still think there is more that needs to be done. I think the level of cooperation has some way to go…intelligence exchanges and exchanges between law enforcement agencies are still too limited,” he added.
Assistance in a counter-terrorism agreement signed with Cambodia on Wednesday provides for Australian advice on intelligence collecting, policing, border controls, and intelligence exchanges, Downer said.
There are no plans for counter-terrorism training of the Cambodian military, but training Cambodian police in counter-terrorism was a possibility, he said.