The promise of a war crimes tribunal for leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime grew nearer last Friday with King Norodom Sihanouk’s signing of the tribunal law, but difficult negotiations remain as the government and the UN hammer out important details on the panel’s makeup and jurisdiction, analysts cautioned Sunday.
The negotiations, expected to begin next month after UN officials receive an English translation of the tribunal law, will address everything from who should pay for the tribunal to the balance of foreign and Cambodian participants involved in the tribunal. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan issued a statement through his spokesman saying the UN was “prepared to continue to work closely with the government to assist it to undertake a trial that will finally bring Khmer Rouge leaders to justice.”
Another unresolved issue is the status of “Brother No 3,” Ieng Sary. Though he was granted a 1996 amnesty for leading a mass defection of Khmer Rouge cadre, he remains one of the former Khmer Rouge leaders UN observers have said they would like to see prosecuted for war crimes.
Speaking Sunday, Ieng Sary maintained his innocence and said he was not bothered by the tribunal, nor by recent comments from Duch, the former head of the S-21 torture center and one of only two former Khmer Rouge leaders in prison awaiting trial, that he would implicate other top leaders in his testimony.
“During the three years [of the Khmer Rouge regime], I did not spend much time in the country. I frequently left for overseas,” Ieng Sary said. He refused further comment on what he called “Duch’s accusations.”
The former foreign minister said he was too infirm to appear before a tribunal, anyway.
“Right now, I am very sick. I can not get up from the chair, so I cannot respond to whether I can stand trial or not. It depends on my health,” Ieng Sary said.
Ieng Sary said he has already received a copy of a US report linking him and the other top KR leaders to the deaths of more than one million Cambodians.
“I would like to say that I never did such things,” he said.
The UN pressed for a phrase in the tribunal law that amnesty would not be a bar to prosecution, allowing tribunal judges to indict Ieng Sary. The government refused.
At least one observer said the differences between the UN and Cambodia are not so great that they will stall the tribunal.
“I don’t believe that there are any really substantive issues left to address concerning the law,” said US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann.
The articles of cooperation to be negotiated by the UN and the Cambodian government will cover issues that have provoked only minor disagreement such as court procedures, protection for witnesses, funding, and recruitment of foreign personnel, both judicial and administrative, the Wiedemann said.
A draft of the memorandum of understanding between the government and the UN on these issues has already been prepared, but it is not a public document and has not been made available.
Other observers contend major differences do remain between the tribunal created by last week’s legislation and the one envisioned by UN negotiators.
“I don’t believe a tribunal will be formed soon,” said Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy.
The approval of the draft law may be the result of pressures put on the government during this past June’s donor meeting, at which international donors said a Khmer Rouge tribunal was one priority they would like to see addressed by the government, Lao Mong Hay said.
Kek Galabru, founder of the human rights group Licadho, said she sees no prospect for a tribunal in sight.
“The process ahead will never be easy to deal with because many obstacles are in the way,” she said.
(Reporting by Lor Chandara, Thet Sambath, and Matt McKinney)