Despite its initial momentum, the process of defining how former Khmer Rouge leaders will be prosecuted has again slowed as both Cambodian and UN officials await written confirmation of a verbal agreement struck in late April between Prime Minister Hun Sen and the UN.
UN officials in New York last week refused to comment on the proposed trial plan until they had received a written agreement from Cambodia.
But senior Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng said Wednesday the Cambodian government is first waiting to receive a letter from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, acknowledging US Senator John Kerry’s discussions with Hun Sen.
Parliamentarians have also said they are waiting for something more than a verbal agreement between the prime minister and UN officials on the proposed trial plan before they begin discussing the draft law.
While the delay isn’t likely to prove fatal to the UN’s planned involvement in a joint trial, one Asian diplomat warned Wednesday it may be used by some CPP parliamentarians to further stall negotiations.
The diplomat noted that Hun Sen will have to “pacify elements inside the CPP” who think Hun Sen may have conceded too much to the UN in terms of the power given to foreign judges to indict suspected criminals.
They fear there will not be control to keep prosecutors from calling current government officials to trial, the diplomat said.
But the National Assembly’s delay in looking at a trial draft law isn’t likely to hurt prosecution efforts, despite Hun Sen’s pledge to have legislation ready for UN approval by June 15, according to a Western diplomat.
“There was never a deadline. This was always seen as a target date,” the official said Tuesday, one day after Prince Norodom Ranariddh announced that lawmakers weren’t likely to even begin debating the trial draft law until June 15.
The slowdown cannot be blamed on the same sniping and political posturing that has plagued much of the trial process, according to the official.
He said world events—particularly political unrest in Sierra Leone—have taken the UN’s attention away from Cambodia.
“There’s no question Cambodia is still on [the UN’s] agenda, there’s nothing to indicate any substantial problems,” the official said.
Hun Sen met with Kerry two weeks ago, and after two days of intense negotiations settled on a plan for joint international-Cambodian prosecution of former Khmer Rouge leaders, as long as the National Assembly is allowed to pass a trial law before seeking final UN approval for the plan.
Shortly before his departure April 29, Kerry said he expected there would be an exchange of letters within a few weeks of his talks with Hun Sen, cementing their verbal agreement into a memorandum of understanding.
The expected memorandum does provide a framework for a law. But it does not guarantee that lawmakers have to follow the agreement between Hun Sen and the UN, despite Kerry’s warnings that the UN would remove itself from the prosecution if there are any major changes to the proposed plan.