Hun Sen Offers Options On Prosecuting Khmer Rouge
In his first public comments about a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders since a UN negotiating team left Cambodia two weeks ago, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday offered a list of potential “compromises” on how to prosecute suspects in the trial.
“Choose the one you like. I open it for you,” Hun Sen told representatives from donor nations.
Speaking at the Council of Ministers for Cambodia’s quarterly donors meeting, the premier outlined how the government can reach agreement with the UN on the single outstanding issue that remains: how suspects are formally charged in the trial.
The government has suggested a system of “co-prosecutors,” where both a Cambodian and a foreign-appointed prosecutor would have to agree on those charged, while the UN wants an individual to have independent prosecution authority.
“After a tough but constructive negotiation [with the UN], one little problem remains over whether a system of co-prosecutors will bring separate or joint charges,” Hun Sen said. “We cannot agree on the separate charge, otherwise the foreign prosecutors will bring charges against everyone, and the Cambodian prosecutors will bring charges against, for instance…the American leaders and those who used to support the Khmer Rouge.”
He said individual prosecutions are not acceptable, because they “would lead to a division that would provoke war again and an international conflict within the UN,” referring, if vaguely, to the rift between the US and China over how much international influence should be allowed in the trial.
To resolve the stalemate, Hun Sen ticked off a list of possibilities in the case that the two prosecutors do not agree.
The prime minister said the decision could be put to the panel of judges to decide, either on the Khmer Rouge trial’s primary, appeals or supreme court level. Or, he said, a separate “mechanism” of jurists could be appointed to resolve a stalemate.
Yet it’s likely the UN would not support a system under which judges both prosecute and decide a case, one diplomat said.
Diplomats close to the negotiations said the fact that Hun Sen is even considering these options is good news, just before he meets next week in Cuba with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
Observers on Thursday also said the Cambodian government initiated the meeting with Annan—a strong break from Hun Sen’s tough-talking stance in recent months.
Talks went sour between the UN and the government after a first negotiating team left in August with little progress made and government officials refused to budge in September talks at the UN in New York. After months of inactivity, the UN early this year sent the government a terse letter saying it would negotiate only if talks were narrowed to certain issues, including the prosecutor.
Hun Sen on Thursday said the letter “broke my heart.”
“But finally we have compromised. Now only this last point exists,” he said.
Observers were nervous no deal would be reached with the UN last week, when officials in the National Assembly said the government’s plan for the trial, in the form of a draft law passed in January by the Cabinet, would proceed without major changes.
But negotiators say the question of how to resolve the prosecutor question can be stipulated in a separate agreement between the UN and the government that likely will be sealed once the law passes in Cambodia.
Analysts for months have hoped the premier would cave in to pressure from donor nations to reach agreement on the trial, even if that pressure was muted. Yet they acknowledge he also has pressure inside his own party and outside Cambodia to retain control of the proceedings.