Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday said the government could amend the controversial law establishing a Khmer Rouge tribunal that was deemed too restrictive by the UN—a disagreement that eventually torpedoed talks for an international tribunal.
The statement marks a significant softening of Cambodia’s position on the talks in which the UN was repeatedly told it could assist the government with a trial but would have to take a subservient role.
“What we want is consensus to move the court ahead,” said Hun Sen, speaking to reporters after a meeting of the Council of Ministers. “So even if we must amend the law, we can amend it.”
Hun Sen also claimed that progress has been made in “high-level” talks that have continued despite the UN’s withdrawal from formal negotiations Feb 8.
Several people close to the talks have said publicly that limited discussions continued after the February pullout through third parties who are dealing with both sides.
Hans Corell, the UN’s lead negotiator for a Khmer Rouge tribunal, has said UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan decided to abandon trial negotiations after concluding that the law did not grant the UN sufficient control. Corell has not responded to recent questions sent by e-mail about the continuing talks.
Hun Sen also suggested significant changes to the structure of the court, which so far has been envisioned as having three—trial, appeals and supreme—levels. The premier said a three-level tribunal may be too complicated to implement or fund, suggesting it could be cut to one or two levels.
The existing law requires rulings to get a supermajority decision at three levels, meaning four out of five judges at the trial level, five out of seven judges at the appeals and six out of nine at the supreme court.
The use of a supermajority is meant to give the Cambodians an upper hand in decision-making at each level, but also requires the assent of at least one foreign judge—a nod to UN demands that the Cambodian judiciary not hold veto power over all of the tribunal’s decisions. Hun Sen’s conciliatory gesture on Wednesday comes almost two weeks after a deadline passed in which he had threatened to hold a tribunal on his own if the UN did not return to negotiations.
“The main point is to find a formula to try Khmer Rouge leaders on genocide against humanity and war crimes,” he said.