Khmer Rouge Tribunal Compromise Not Yet a Done Deal

Though he called Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen’s intention to compromise on a Khmer Rouge trial a positive sign, the UN special envoy to Cambodia said Wed­nes­day it was not a guarantee that Cam­bodia will meet UN criteria.

In an unexpected move, Hun Sen on Tuesday said he had accepted a compromise plan by the US on how to try one-time Khmer Rouge leaders. Key to the plan is allowing Cambodian judges to hold the majority in number, but requiring a final verdict to be agreed upon by UN-appointed judges.

Following a rare address Wed­nes­day by a foreigner to members of the National Assembly, human rights envoy Thomas Ham­marberg said aspects of the US-Cambodian compromise are unclear and the compromise remains largely a verbal agreement.

He also said no official decision has been reached yet by the Cam­­bodian government on the UN-proposed trial plan, despite Hun Sen’s comments. But Ham­mar­berg said he was hopeful a final agreement could be reached between the UN and Cambodia by the end of the year.

“The [Cambodian] government must respond in writing to the UN proposal….We want it in writing to analyze the whole picture to make sure the trial is protected from any kind of outside pressure,” Hammarberg said as he left the National Assembly compound. “But I’m confident they will respond—they said they would.”

Hammarberg’s comments followed a speech on the state of human rights in Cambodia to senior parliamentarians.

Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, Hun Sen had taken a hardline stance against a foreign-controlled court, maintaining that he wanted a majority of its judges to be Cambodian and saying he was willing to proceed without any international presence if the UN did not bend to his wishes.

But the prime minister appears to now be warming to a plan conceptualized in Washington and brokered by US Ambassador to Cambodia Kent Wiedemann.

Government officials have said a team of legal advisers is being assembled to come up with a response to the UN in the form of a genocide draft law which will be handed over to UN representatives “as soon as possible” though a firm date hasn’t been set.

The US plan, which Cambodia’s draft law will likely draw from, also limits the trial’s focus to top members of the Khmer Rouge who are responsible for orchestrating the mass killings between 1975 and 1979 that left more than 1 million dead.

Only two former Khmer Rouge leaders—Ta Mok and the former Tuol Sleng security chief known as Duch—are currently in jail in Phnom Penh. Several other former leaders remain free after defecting to the government.

The planned trial marks an attempt by Cambodia to reconcile its violent past—hopefully resolving 20 years of national guilt and validating the country in the eyes of the international community, Hammarberg said.

“Such a process would be important for the memory of those killed, for their relatives and also as a signal for future generations,” Hammarberg said. “It would be the most effective means of demonstrating that justice in the end is always done, whoever the perpetrators are.”

Hammarberg was involved in informal trial talks in Cambodia for several years and has been a key figure in negotiating a genocide prosecution.

“What struck me already on my first visit was the horrific devastation caused by the Khmer Rouge,” Hammarberg told the parliamentarians. “I got to understand that the mass killings also had handicapped later attempts to build strong democratic institutions in society….This, obviously, has contributed to the phenomenon of impunity.”


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