UN Gets Heat for Not Sending Team Of Experts Sooner
Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday confirmed he would meet UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to discuss a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders at a UN trade conference in Bangkok.
“The government still welcomes further talks with the UN. We want to explain our position,” the premier told reporters outside the Ministry of Interior’s two-day annual conference.
Hun Sen’s comments came hours after he forwarded a terse letter to Kofi Annan, saying he is “surprised by the gap” that remains between the government and the UN on the trial.
In addition to the Bangkok meeting, Hun Sen’s letter urged the UN to send its experts to Phnom Penh to discuss the differences between a government draft that has been sent on to the National Assembly and a list of UN concerns that Kofi Annan sent to Hun Sen on Tuesday.
“This gap…is unfair to Cambodia and does not reflect the achievements of our efforts made so far,” Hun Sen wrote to Kofi Annan. “Although the gap cannot be welcomed…I also welcome a visit of your officials to Cambodia for further understanding.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith on Thursday said much more progress could have been made in negotiations over how to conduct a trial if the UN had sent its experts sooner.
“We requested they send a lawyer here awhile ago, but they ignored that request. They really missed the boat on this,” he said.
A handful of diplomats who hope to see heavy UN involvement in the trial also urged the UN to send a team here earlier in the month so the Bangkok meeting could be more productive.
But Kofi Annan instead this week chastised the government for taking too long to complete its plan to conduct the trial.
The government first requested UN assistance on the trial in 1997. The UN later sent to Cambodia a team of legal experts who deemed the nation’s courts unfit to hold a fair and unbiased trial, considering their untrained jurists and the fact that many government officials once were aligned with the Khmer Rouge.
The government last March rejected an international trial like those of Rwandan and Yugoslavian suspects when China threatened to veto such a plan in the UN Security Council. After months of talks, the two sides have worked to establish a unprecedented “mixed” tribunal involving both Cambodian and foreign jurists.
But after a UN legal team last came to Cambodia in August, talks came to a virtual stand-still until the government completed its plan and sent it on to the UN’s headquarters in New York in December.
Included in Kofi Annan’s most recent list of concerns was the caveat that he only would send a team to Cambodia if government officials were willing to keep the negotiations narrowed to four issues:
• The arrest and surrender of those indicted, which the UN called the “single most important condition for the success of the tribunal.” The government has included a provision for arrests in its current draft law, but the UN wants a pre-trial “international agreement” to guarantee the arrests.
• Amnesties and pardons, which the UN says have not been fully addressed by the government. While the government plan assures that no one convicted in the trial would later be pardoned, it makes no mention of amnesties previously granted to former Khmer Rouge operatives.
• The prosecutor and the investigating judge, who the UN said must be “international, independent.” The government proposed a system of “co-prosecutors”—one Cambodian, one foreign—but the UN said this could lead to impasse.
• The majority of judges in the trial, which the UN says should be international. While the government proposed a majority of Cambodian judges and a say in appointing foreigners, the UN said appointment of international judges “must remain within the sole purview of the Secretary General.”
In his letter to the UN on Thursday, Hun Sen did not say whether or not talks would focus only on these four issues, leaving some to wonder whether negotiations might stall even longer.
One source close to the talks on Thursday said the government is willing to “hear the UN out on all the issues—not just these four,” but he conceded that the tough tone of Kofi Annan’s letter might make progress more difficult.
The letter from Kofi Annan echoes concerns outlined a month ago in a “non-paper” issued by his staff to the government. Because little has changed since then, analysts are even more pessimistic about how things could progress.
“It looks like we’re not moving forward,” said Kao Kim Hourn, director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace. “It would be hard for the UN to compromise, because they are operating on international legal standards. Either way, there’s a real sense of urgency now.”
Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy, said Hun Sen eventually will compromise with the UN, but it might take some time for him to “save face.”
“It would be a bit difficult if he were to go ahead without the UN. It would be meaningless,” he said, adding that Hun Sen likely did not expect yet another stand-off with the UN.
One Asian diplomat this week said Hun Sen’s government eventually will have to compromise with the UN to please member states that have a large stake in Cambodia, but this task will be passed on to National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh.
In at least two other key moves in negotiations over the trial, the prince has made announcements considered to be crucial steps away from the government’s original position, including the decision to accept US State Department proposals on the trial.
“The prime minister has indicated in the past that he delegates these responsibilities so he doesn’t have to be the fall guy,” the diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)