For the first time in months, those pushing for a tribunal to punish the leaders of the Cambodian genocide have let the word “hope” slip back into their remarks.
But despite a UN statement suggesting the possibility of new talks to close one of the 20th century’s worst human rights disasters, this week’s thaw between the world body and Cambodia has been met with a lukewarm response. And neither side’s position seems to have moved much beyond the deadlock of a few months ago. In interviews this week, key officials on both sides still sounded belligerent.
On Tuesday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement that tribunal talks would start again if the UN General Assembly or Security Council gave him a new mandate.
But UN legal affairs chief Hans Corell, who broke off talks on Feb 8, said Annan had only issued the statement “because his attempt to exercise his good offices failed.”
“In his letter, the Secretary-General is simply re-stating his opinion since 8 February,” Corell wrote in an email received Friday.
To Corell, Annan’s statement was actually a new challenge to Cambodia and its supporters.
“At the present juncture it was necessary for him to go public and state clearly that he is not prepared to discuss this matter further unless there is a clear mandate from the General Assembly or the Security Council. Therefore, the matter is for the member states of the United Nations, and in particular Cambodia, as it has been since 8 February 2002,” Corell wrote.
In breaking off the talks in February, Corell said Cambodia refused to yield to UN jurisdiction and couldn’t guarantee fair trials.
Although a variety of top Cambodian officials welcomed Annan’s statement this week, they have offered no concrete measures to kick-start the negotiations.
“We’ve agreed we can discuss this, but up until this point, they haven’t said what needs to be changed,” Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said this week.
Khieu Kanharith said Cambodia has met its obligations to the UN. It is up the world body, he said, to make the tribunal happen, if only to live up to the unkept promises of the Untac era.
“We welcome the move. We started the peace process with the UN. It’s important the UN comes back to finish the process,” he said.
Since Corell scrapped the talks, some member states have accused the UN of bad faith and have quietly lobbied for a resumption. However, the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and the US’ war on terrorism have pushed the tribunal further down on the world’s agenda, sources say.
Diplomats and observers were cautious this week on the talks issue.
“I hope a way will be found,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson said at a farewell news conference Thursday.
Pressed for her take on the deadlock, Robinson—whom sources said was furious with Corell for pulling out of the talks—demurred. “I’m not the lead person on that,” she said.
Japanese Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa called Annan’s letter “a step forward.”
“I’m not sure whether we’ll be successful or not, but it’s an improvement on the situation in February,” he said. “I hope it’s a way out.”