India Prime Minister AB Vajpayee again said Monday night that his country would assist Cambodia in a non-UN sponsored Khmer Rouge trial if the government here fails to restart tribunal talks with the world body.
Vajpayee said India was prepared to send a judge to Cambodia to help with a domestic trial—an offer that was originally made in April.
“We are in favor of an independent inquiry into the allegations [if the UN refuses to reopen trial talks],” Vajpayee said. The Indian premier is in Phnom Penh attending the first-ever Asean Plus India Summit.
After years of often contentious negotiations, the UN and Cambodia appeared to be nearing an agreement on a joint domestic-international tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders. A Khmer Rouge trial law had already been passed and officials from both sides said only some minor details had to be worked out.
But in February, the UN abruptly pulled out of talks, and its lead negotiator, Hans Corell, accused the government—and Cambodia’s weak judiciary—of not having the will to hold an independent trial.
Yet none of the UN’s member states supported the world body’s withdrawal.
Almost immediately after the UN abandoned trial talks, a group of 26 countries started working quietly on the text of a resolution that, if passed by the UN General Assembly, would mandate that the UN become involved again in a Khmer Rouge tribunal—something UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said was necessary for him to restart trial talks.
Cambodian officials are reportedly studying the draft resolution, but there is no indication yet that Cambodian leaders are willing to cosponsor the final products, a Phnom Penh diplomat said late last month.
“If they want [this] trial to happen, Cambodia must show they want it to happen,” the diplomat said.
The UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht, also said a joint tribunal would be the best guarantee that defendants are tried using international standards. He acknowledged in a report released Tuesday that an alternative might be necessary.
“In the absence of such a tribunal, other possibilities for promoting reconciliation should be considered,” Leuprecht wrote in the report.
The Cambodian government has always maintained that the trial law already passed is adequate, and demanded that any new legislation not supersede that existing law.
Legislative sovereignty has been the defense of the few countries that appear not to support a joint UN-Cambodian Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“The government of Cambodia has already adopted a law on the trial of the Khmer Rouge,” China’s Deputy Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Monday.
China, which supported the Khmer Rouge and still has close ties with Cambodia, has tried to keep the UN and others out of the business of prosecuting former members of the regime that is thought responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million people.
“Cambodia, of course, possesses a complete set of judicial organs—so I am sure Cambodia has the capacity to resolve this question well,” Wang Yi said.
But many critics question how far the government will actually go to try and right the wrongs committed by the Khmer Rouge.
So far, only two of the regime’s leaders—military commander Ta Mok and Duch, the former director of the Tuol Sleng torture center—have been arrested and are awaiting some sort of prosecution.
Key Khmer Rouge figures like Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Nuon Chea remain free. Others—Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot and military deputy commander Ke Pauk—have already died, and many fear others, too, will die before coming before any sort of court.
(Additional reporting by Seth Meixner)