Gov’t Calls on Nations to Lobby UN on KR

Prime Minister Hun Sen put the question of a Khmer Rouge tribunal to the international community Thursday, saying it was up to UN member nations to lobby UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to restart the negotiations Annan abandoned in February.

Reacting to news that Annan was prepared to return to the talks if UN member nations re­quested it, Hun Sen told report­ers it was a positive sign that the tribunal talks—suspended by disagreements over whether Cam­bo­dia or the UN would control the trial—may restart.

“It is a good starting point. We are waiting for what will take place,” the premier said Thurs­day at the Ministry of Health, where he was inaugurating the ministry’s five-year plan to improve health care.

Hun Sen said it is now up to the UN Security Council or the Gen­eral Assembly to provide Annan with the “mandate” that he has said is necessary for the talks to resume.

It remains to be seen if the Security Council or General As­sembly need only tell Annan to return, or if he will demand a more detailed set of instructions for dealing with the roadblocks that have stalled the negotiations in the past.

Still, Annan’s statement is encouraging, said Minister of Cabinet Sok An, chief of the government’s task force negotiating with the UN.

“I saw Kofi Annan’s letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen. The letter, if compared to [UN Chief of Legal Affairs] Hans Corell’s statement in February, is much more positive. Before the UN said ‘No,’ but now they say, ‘We could do it,’” Sok An said.

The Security Council is widely viewed as unlikely to support a trial, since veto-wielding member China has said it would veto moves to set up a tribunal.

Sok An remained hopeful that the General Assembly would in­struct Annan to resume the negotiations, since the 189-member body has offered general support for a Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal every year since 1997.

But one observer to the process said that the General As­sem­bly has only offered vague support in previous resolutions about the trial.

“[Annan] is demanding a ‘specific mandate,’ and this is something I have heard senior UN officials complaining about for more than a year—so it is certainly nothing new—because they felt like they were out on a limb all by themselves with no political cover or legal guidance from the member states,” said Khmer Rouge researcher and historian Craig Etcheson.

“The GA has been generous in offering encouragement to Cam­bodia and the Secretariat to proceed to a deal, but has been missing in action in terms of laying down any specific guidelines.”

Chief among the questions that the General Assembly may have to decide is whether Cambodian law is sufficient to meet international standards, which lies at the heart of the disagreement that shuttered the talks in the first place, Etcheson suggested.

UN negotiators in the past had insisted that the tribunal follow international laws modeled after the International Criminal Court. Cambodian officials refused, saying Cambodian national law was sufficient for the trial.

“The real question may come down to, what is the minimally acceptable level of procedural standards to which the UN should be willing to agree?” Etch­eson said.

(Additional reporting by Matt McKinney)

 

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