The Constitutional Council is scheduled to vote today on a second revision to a law that would establish a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders, and Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday he hoped the council would approve the law as it now stands.
“I hope that they will agree and send [the law] to the government, and then the government sends it to His Majesty the King to sign,” the prime minister, speaking in English, said to reporters.
Members of the council refused to comment on amendments to the law or the vote itself. Council Chairman Bin Chhin said that he expected a ruling followed by a briefing on their decision by 10 am or 11 am today.
The nine members of the Constitutional Council have the power to rule on the constitutionality of any law passed by the National Assembly and Senate. The council rejected the Khmer Rouge tribunal legislation in January because that draft contained a reference to the death penalty.
Because the death penalty has been outlawed in Cambodia, the reference amounted to a technical glitch. It took six months to amend, however, and as a result many observers have questioned the governments’ commitment to trying former leaders of the genocidal regime, which killed more than 1 million Cambodians between 1975-1979.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he found it hard to say for certain what the Council would do with the present Khmer Rouge law, though he hoped for its approval.
“The law took enough time already,” he said.
If the council finds another glitch, Youk Chhang said he would question whether its members are “legally serving the nation.”
Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights organization Licadho, agreed.
“We need to stop the culture of impunity here,” she said.
But concerns will exist even when the law receives council approval. The Cambodian government still has to negotiate with the UN over the extent of the international community’s involvement in the trial of former Khmer Rouge members.
To date, those talks—on the scope of the trial, and the UN’s financial, judicial and advisory support during its proceedings—have been tense. Hun Sen has resisted UN involvement in what he considers an issue to be handled within Cambodia by Cambodians.
On Monday, the prime minister expressed his concern that reopening the Khmer Rouge legacy could destroy Cambodia’s present peace.
“This is related to peace and war. That’s why we must be careful,” he said. Hun Sen, who once served in the Khmer Rouge, added that he was not attempting to avoid trying the Khmer Rouge’s leaders.
Only two former Khmer Rouge leaders have been arrested: Ta Mok, who controlled southwestern Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge regime, and Duch, who ran Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.
Youk Chhang suggested one of Cambodia’s large donor nations facilitate negotiations between Hun Sen and the UN.
Another concern, Kek Galabru said, is ensuring that former Khmer Rouge leaders such as Ieng Sary be required to testify. She also said the court might find that victims too fearful to speak out against their abusers would decline to testify. She suggested holding the court proceedings outside of Cambodia.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)