As a new UN proposal that would reopen the Khmer Rouge talks prepared to face its first test, UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht said Tuesday that time is running out for giving real justice to the more than 1 million people who died during the Pol Pot regime.
Leuprecht threw down a gauntlet at a news conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, endorsing the draft mandate and calling on UN members to pass it quickly.
“I believe the text that has been tabled in New York is a good text and I hope it will be passed by the General Assembly,” he said.
The UN’s Third Committee in New York is scheduled Tuesday to vote on draft resolution 109 (b), which would order UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to reopen talks with Cambodia to build a Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Although Leuprecht said he was confident the draft resolution would clear both its committee and the floor of the UN General Assembly, he also said that if the attempt at the UN fails, “this might well be the end of UN involvement in the process.
“This is probably the last opportunity to bring the UN back,” he said.
Although India has already offered Cambodia help if it decides to go alone in prosecuting former top Khmer Rouge leaders, most observers say having the UN signature on the trials is the key to its credibility.
UN Chief of Legal Affairs Hans Corell broke off talks with the government in February, saying Cambodia couldn’t guarantee the panel’s independence. The decision outraged the UN’s member states, who were given only 15 minutes notice before Corell announced it.
Leuprecht said on Tuesday said he did not want “to personalize” the issue by focusing on Corell. But he said he hadn’t spoke with Corell about the new draft.
Although many observers have criticized the wording of the proposal as too soft on Cambodia, Leuprecht said the government here will have to show it is committed to the tribunal.
“They can show their commitment by not presenting amendments to the text and assuring member states they will firmly vote in its favor,” he said.
The proposal, co-sponsored by both the French and the Japanese, came out at the last minute last week, after the Australians—who were chairing a committee of 26 “interested nations” to kick-start the talks—walked away.
Cambodia’s stubbornness may have been the pay-off on a tradeoff with China, some diplomats and observers have suggested. Last month, China forgave Cambodia’s huge foreign debt, the bulk of it reportedly from the Khmer Rouge era.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith has dismissed those suggestions.
“I can guarantee you that’s not true,” he said.
Whatever the case, time is running out.
“I hope the government sees this as the last chance to work with the UN to establish a tribunal,” Documentation Center of Cambodia Executive Director Youk Chhang said. “The UN and the international community seem to have come to a last solution.”