Cambodian and UN negotiators expect to finalize a draft agreement today on how the government and the world body would cooperate to create a tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders, the two sides said on Sunday after a total of 13 hours of negotiations on Friday and Sunday.
“Now we are in a position to submit to our top leaders the… final draft of the potential agreement between the United Nations and Cambodia,” the government’s head negotiator, Minister of Cabinet Sok An, told reporters after Sunday’s six-hour session with the UN delegation led by UN legal counsel Hans Corell.
As of Sunday night, the draft had not been finished, but only a few matters remained to be agreed upon, Sok An and Corell said.
“We are almost there,” Corell said. The unfinished items “are some important but technical issues that we have no doubt that we will be able to solve.”
Corell said he and Sok An would communicate via messengers Sunday night. Corell said he would also communicate with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Sunday night “and discuss with him the stage at which we are now.
“As His Excellency Mr Sok An said, we are the negotiators, and it is our task to see how far we can get. It’s then for the General Assembly of the United Nations and the competent institutions in Cambodia to decide whether the result is acceptable.”
Corell, who arrived in Cambodia on Thursday, was scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Hun Sen today and leave the country this evening. Annan is required to inform the General Assembly of the results of the talks on Tuesday.
The two sides negotiated for seven hours—until 10 pm—on Friday and worked separately Saturday.
On Sunday, neither man would say what any of the issues involved were or exactly how far was left to go. Corell said that was beside the point.
“The question is what is the substance—what are the important issues,” he said.
“I think that the lodestar for the United Nations, and I hope certainly for the government, is to create a trial which is dignified and can deal in a professional and competent manner with the tragedy that visited this country in the ’70s.”
The draft that the two sides are working on is an agreement known as the “Articles of Cooperation” that would spell out the “modalities” of a trial co-sponsored by Cambodia and the UN.
As such, it would bring international participation into a special extension of the Cambodian judicial system.
Cambodia and the UN have been working on and off since 1997 to create such a court through two key documents: The articles now being negotiated, and a Cambodian law outlining the rules for the tribunal court itself.
That law already exists—it was passed in 2001—but the UN and human rights groups have complained that it does not provide adequate safeguards to ensure international standards of justice, given Cambodia’s notoriously corrupt and inept legal system.
In addition, the UN wanted its agreement with Cambodia, the articles, to have the power to override the Cambodian law. The Cambodian side said the two documents, having different aims, should stand side by side with neither sovereign over the other.
This jurisdictional disagreement was the reason Annan cited for pulling the UN out of the negotiations altogether in February 2002. But several prominent UN member nations protested the decision and set about lobbying for renewed talks. In December, the General Assembly voted in favor of a resolution mandating Annan to return to the table.
But the sovereignty issue, and the perceived flaws in the Cambodian law itself, have been totally avoided during this visit by the two sides’ exclusive focus on drafting the articles. On his arrival Thursday, Corell was asked about the sovereignty problem.
“As you know, this was one of the reasons that the secretary-general ended his good offices in February,” he said. “I think this question is probably solved through the resolution by the General Assembly,” which specifies that Cambodia and the UN should negotiate an agreement, he said.
Later Thursday, Sok An said the issue of “jurisdiction” could be set aside until later, “after the result of our negotiation.”