The National Assembly ratified the government’s agreement with the UN to prosecute surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge’s Democratic Kampuchea regime on Monday, more than seven years after sluggish negotiations began.
“What we have been waiting for, we succeeded in today,” Prime Minister Hun Sen told reporters.
The vote was unanimous—107 votes in favor of bringing ex-Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.
The Assembly is scheduled to consider amendments to a 2001 law to establish a tribunal comprised of Cambodian and international judges today.
“Tomorrow, it’s finished,” National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said.
While Hun Sen and other government officials have pointed to donors’ reluctance to pay for the tribunal as its greatest threat, the long-awaited ratification has held up the talks on the budget and funding.
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An told the parliament Monday that the government’s tribunal task force would now prepare for the next visit by its UN counterparts.
The visit was scheduled and rescheduled over several months and eventually put off by the government until the Assembly could approve the tribunal.
A UN official said Monday that Karsten Herrel, the world body’s tribunal coordinator, would wait for the Assembly to make its amendments to the 2001 law before planning his next trip from New York.
On the floor of the Assembly, opposition leader Sam Rainsy accused the CPP-led government of using the funding problem as an excuse to delay the trials.
Theories on why the government might want to avoid pinning down responsibility for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians include charges that current Cambodian leaders, including Hun Sen, participated in Pol Pot’s regime.
There is also speculation that the trials could inflict embarrassment on the CPP-led government’s benefactors in Hanoi and Beijing. Both governments also backed the Khmer Rouge at one time.
Sam Rainsy went on to urge the government to devote funds from its own coffers to hold the tribunal.
“No matter how much money, the government should share [the expenditures],” he said.
He pointed to the government’s spending on last month’s Asean Inter-Parliamentary Organization meeting, which exceeded its $1.2 million budget, as evidence of lucre.
“There is nothing more important than to offer justice to the victims, and the prosecution also is our duty, to lead our country toward the rule of law, and to end the bad habit of powerful people using their power to kill, but no one is ever punished,”
Deputy Prime Minister Hor Namhong, just back from meeting with UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, said that the government has no intention of throwing up obstacles for the tribunal.
He also said that the government was not forcing donor countries to pay for anything.
“The international community wants to pay their own money because this is a genocidal crime,” he said.
The UN at one point put forward an estimate of about $60 million for a three-year tribunal. Potential donors—including France, Japan, the US and Australia—have attempted to whittle that figure down to $30 million.