Speaks Favorably About Int’l Tribunal
King Norodom Sihanouk distanced himself Wednesday from the government’s embracing of senior Khmer Rouge defectors Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, saying he will not sign any amnesties.
King Sihanouk, whom Hun Sen has cited since Saturday as supporting the acceptance of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, also spoke in favor of establishing an international tribunal on the Khmer Rouge.
“Such an international tribunal has the perfect right to judge the affair of genocide in Cambodia because it was a crime against humanity,” the King told his official interviewing team in Beijing. “This comes under the conscience of the people of the world.”
The King’s statements, his first since the Khieu Samphan-Nuon Chea defections were announced Saturday, came as the two likely candidates for genocide charges visited Phnom Penh for a second day as guests of the Phnom Penh government.
“I leave to [Prime Minister] Hun Sen all the responsibility of ‘handling’ this unfortunate and dramatic affair of according pardon to the Khmer Rouge,” the King said. “I will not sign any more krets or krams relating to the Khmer Rouge affairs.”
Hun Sen said Monday that there should be no trial within the Cambodian court system for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea and signaled he opposed an internationally organized tribunal to judge the men on charges of crimes against humanity. He said that Cambodians should “dig a hole and bury the past.”
But King Sihanouk said his position reflects the will of the Cambodian people.
“Taking into consideration the very great and undeniable discontent of the majority of the Khmer people, I announce to this majority that I respect them and I will not renew my granting of amnesty to the major Khmer Rouge criminals who are against the Cambodian people,” the King said in an interview with his staff Tuesday from Beijing.
It was unclear if King Sihanouk’s opposition to amnesties will affect the fate of Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea as Hun Sen holds the reins of power in Cambodia. His public statements influence the courts, Cambodian and foreign political observers have said.
King Sihanouk has previously Rouge regime, then-Prince Sihanouk spent 33 months under palace arrest. The Khmer Rouge executed several of his family members.
Hun Sen was a Khmer Rouge field commander until he fled the movement in 1977, and turned his arms to oppose it.
Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea met Wednesday with former UN chief Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who has said the decision on a Khmer Rouge tribunal is a Cambodian affair. Boutros-Ghali is in Cambodia as head of the International Francophone Organization.
Aides said Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, who defected in the northwestern border town of Pailin on Friday, were considering trips to Sihanoukville and the Angkor temples.
Meanwhile, calls for an international tribunal on Khmer Rouge crimes continued. While Hun Sen has said “do not ask” about a trial for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, advocates said such a trial is necessary to allow Cambodia to heal.
More than 1 million Cambodians are believed to have died of torture, starvation, disease and forced labor during the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-78 rule.
Thomas Hammarberg, the UN special representative on human rights in Cambodia, said he hoped there would be a “constructive discussion between the government and the UN” based on next month’s recommendation by a team of UN experts on whether there should be a tribunal.
“This is a question of fundamental justice and respect for the victims as well as for their surviving family members,” Hammarberg said by e-mail. “It is of greatest importance that a signal is sent to future generations that these kind of atrocities cannot be left unaddressed afterwards.”
The UN envoy, who uses the term “culture of impunity” to describe the present human rights situation in Cambodia, said that how the Khmer Rouge’s leaders will send a message to future human rights violators.
“If mass murderers are not even put to trial, the broader sense of justice in the society will suffer,” he said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, noted that Hun Sen has not specifically ruled out a tribunal, although the prime minister’s comments do not appear to favor one.
“The welcoming home hosted by the Cambodian government for Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea recently still leaves many options for a legal forum to bring to justice those responsible for the deaths of nearly 2 million Cambodians,” Youk Chhang said in a statement from the US.
While he praised Hun Sen’s bringing the fugitive Khmer Rouge leaders out of the jungle, Youk Chhang urged the government not to reject a tribunal.
“Helping the Khmer Rouge to bury its grave human rights violations means destroying the rule of law of the country against the will of the people,” he said. “It is creating a permanent feeling of suffering, hatred and mistrust among Cambodians against the government.”