As critics and supporters alike on Wednesday assessed a new draft law to try one-time Khmer Rouge leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen said the focus of the trial could be narrowed to only a handful of suspects.
The premier said only “four to five” of Pol Pot’s former allies should be tried—“not less than two, not less than three, not less than four”—despite the government’s insistence in recent months that prosecutors will determine how many suspects face trial.
“The draft law will pass forward…and we will try four to five people who are responsible,” Hun Sen told graduating students at the Royal Administration School.
His statement likely fueled fears in the international community that the government’s plan for a Cambodian-dominated court would allow key Khmer Rouge players, namely “Brother Number Two” Ieng Sary, to escape prosecution.
Instead of addressing these concerns, the premier reiterated his stance that the government will not wait for the UN to approve or disapprove the law before it goes before the Council of Ministers for a vote on Friday.
The message was not lost on UN officials, who received the draft just a few days ago.
In New York on Tuesday, UN officials reacted coolly to the government law, saying Cambodia should not expect any official comments within such a short timeframe.
“I don’t think that would be realistic,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York.
Since Hun Sen in August met with UN officials, he consistently has maintained that Cambodia could conduct a trial on its own.
Analysts, however, pondered whether such a trial is possible.
Not only did Khmer Institute of Democracy Executive Director Lao Mong Hay characterize Hun Sen’s statements about limiting the trial’s suspects as a potential “violation of law and justice,” but he added that a trial without the UN would be a “futile exercise.”
“I am the brother of two victims” of the bloody regime responsible for more than one million deaths from 1975-1979, Lao Mong Hay said Wednesday. “The UN and the international community must be involved. Without them, who would we turn to?”
It’s a question continually begged by Hun Sen’s tough-talking rhetoric, Lao Mong Hay said: How realistic is it that Cambodia hold a trial without the UN?
On a recent visit here, the UN secretary-general’s special human rights envoy to Cambodia assured skeptics that individual UN member states would not support a trial the UN rejects.
But Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, speculated that some countries might take the risk.
He said a number of developed countries would be delighted to retain control over the trial by footing the bill, while Asean member states would only support it “in theory…because they have problems of their own.”
One Asian diplomat, however, refuted the idea that the Cambodian government could go it alone, suggesting the UN has too much to offer this developing nation.
“The UN has control because the government needs the UN to pay for the trial,” he said. “That—and the question of who would appoint credible judges without the UN—that’s the UN’s leverage.”
According to the government draft, Cambodian judges would hold a majority on the bench, with at least one vote from a foreign judge to make a ruling. All foreign staff would be approved after advisement from the UN.
Moreover, a “co-prosecutor” system would be set up with one foreigner and one Cambodian. But the draft makes no mention of what will happen if the prosecutors disagree.
Should the draft pass the Council of Ministers on Friday, its next stop would be the National Assembly, where opposition party leader Sam Rainsy on Wednesday vowed to stir debate.
“[The draft] does not meet the minimum international standards. I hope it is not accepted by the UN,” he said on Wednesday at a party-sponsored economic forum. (Additional reporting by Yuko Maeda and The Associated Press)