Key CPP and Funcinpec lawmakers Tuesday reached a compromise agreement on legislation that would allow the government to detain captured rebel leader Ta Mok for up to three years without a trial, clearing the way for expected passage by the National Assembly.
The lawmakers’ agreement also keeps the lid on the potentially troubling courtroom revelations of Ta Mok, who could languish in prison in silence—possibly for years.
Just Monday, Military Court Investigative Judge Ngim Sam An said the court was prepared to try Ta Mok next month if the current law wasn’t changed. Legally, the government must try Ta Mok or release him next month—six months after he was arrested.
Monh Saphan, chairman of the legislation commission that wrote and passed the legislation Tuesday, implied Ta Mok would have been detained illegally if the law wasn’t changed.
“The draft law was made in order not to let the term [of Ta Mok] go illegal,’’ he said.
Monh Saphan added, “Such a decision is good enough and this formula can break the deadlock we had recently.’’
One contingency plan now scrapped envisioned Ta Mok being tried next month on charges unrelated to crimes committed during the Pol Pot regime in order to allow continued detention, while prosecutors prepare their case and the government negotiates with the UN over international involvement in a Khmer Rouge tribunal.
The lawyer representing Ta Mok said Tuesday he supports the lawmakers’ proposal, which avoids having to try Ta Mok twice or detaining him illegally.
To try Ta Mok twice would be “in nobody’s interest,’’ Benson Samay said Tuesday in his office.
“I think it’s a good idea to try him one time. It’s less work and it is good for everybody, not just Ta Mok, to have one big trial for genocide,’’ he said.
If the full Assembly approves the draft law, Benson Samay said he believes his client would go to trial within another six months. He noted Ta Mok will still have to eventually face charges he violated the 1994 anti-Khmer Rouge law—and he still will implicate as many as 80 people, some of whom are government officials.
The legislation is expected to move swiftly through procedural committees and onto the floor for expected passage by the full National Assembly. However, Monh Saphan said he does not know when it will be debated.
CPP lawmakers had pushed to amend Article 14 of Cambodia’s penal code to allow detention of up to five years for anyone suspected of “genocidal crimes, war crimes or crimes against humanity.’’ Funcinpec lawmakers expressed concerns and asked for more time to consider it.
The compromise will not amend the penal code. Instead, lawmakers wrote a new law that will allow detention for up to three years for anyone suspected of “genocidal crimes, war crimes or crimes against humanity.’’
Monh Saphan said some members of parliament opposed amending Article 14 because of constitutional concerns. Cambodia’s penal code was written by international experts during the Untac period, and some have argued the National Assembly does not have the authority to amend it because it is not technically a Cambodian law.
Human rights groups and opposition party members have warned the law could be abused at a later date to incarcerate political opponents.
Cambodia has no law on the books banning crimes against humanity, even though it signed the Geneva Conventions governing wartime behavior in the 1950s.
A team of UN experts slated to arrive to help draft the laws has been delayed for unspecified reasons.