As he stepped to the podium early today for his first-ever address as prime minister before the UN General Assembly, Hun Sen was expected to characterize his country as one full of resolve to put the “black” years of the Khmer Rouge era behind.
Making very little mention of how exactly to close that chapter of history, a draft of the premier’s speech obtained hours before it was scheduled for delivery indicates Hun Sen will not rail against the UN as he had in the past.
In fact, his only reference to the debate in the five-page address over how to try those responsible for the more than 1 million deaths from 1975 to 1979 paints a conciliatory picture of a government leader willing to negotiate:
“We are firmly resolved to do whatever is needed to provide an open trial of those responsible for genocidal crimes in the country in the past,” the draft states.
“In holding this trial, we will carefully balance, on the one hand, the need for providing justice to our people who were victims of this genocidal regime…on the other hand, the paramount need for continued national independence and sovereignty, which we value the most.”
The draft speech comes in stark contrast to a memo Hun Sen delivered to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on Friday and a nationally broadcast speech he made last month that railed against the UN for its spurious history of granting the Khmer Rouge legitimacy over the years.
In the memo to Kofi Annan, Hun Sen said retaining “sovereignty” means the UN cannot proceed with its heavy-handed plans for an international-style Khmer Rouge tribunal. To remain truly independent, he reiterated, the trial must proceed within existing courts under a majority of Cambodian jurists.
Instead of directly addressing these concerns, the speech stresses the premier’s broad commitment to improving the judicial system. Conspicuously absent is any mention of criticism by UN experts and human rights groups that courts here could not provide a fair and just trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
“In all our efforts,” the speech reads, “we will be guided and dictated by pursuit of the ‘rule of law,’ which provides equality to all and which ensures procedures…justifiable through a competent and impartial judiciary system.”
One Cambodian analyst said the contrast between speech and memo clearly outlines how Hun Sen prefers to make his demands behind closed doors.
“It is a strategy, this is clear. In the memo, the government said ‘no compromise.’ But the speech is for the broader interest. It is for diplomacy’s sake,” said Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace.
Since Hun Sen in March rejected a UN plan for an international tribunal of one-time Khmer Rouge leaders, he has remained unsatisfied with a recent UN plan to establish an ad hoc tribunal within Cambodia that adheres to national law.
His speech before the UN comes as the 54th Congress of the General Assembly gathers in New York for its annual debate session, where delegations from all 188 member states are invited to speak over three months. Twelve state representatives were expected to deliver speeches Monday, with Cambodia slated to be among the early speakers. Hun Sen was scheduled to deliver the address at 3 pm in New York on Monday, which was 4 am today in Phnom Penh.
In the draft of the address, Hun Sen mildly criticizes the world body’s “burgeoning budget levels” and calls for “a single UN presence in each country.”
In last week’s memo, he recommended extending the term for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights here while closing the UN office of the special representative to Kofi Annan, when its mandate expires at the end of January.
After outlining the strides Cambodia has made to improve economic and democratic conditions, the speech takes a more general turn to discuss global issues of environmental degradation and wealth distribution.
“We have lost the art of sharing and caring,” Hun Sen was expected to have said.
“There are a half a billion people in abject poverty even as a few live in conspicuous comfort. The poor, vulnerable and oppressed suffer everywhere through exploitation and neglect.”
The draft also reiterates Hun Sen’s stance on the economic blockade on trade with Cuba. “Punishing poor people…by imposing sanctions…to achieve one’s political agenda goes against the principle of humanity.”
The prime minister returns to Cambodia on Thursday.