As the National Assembly breaks today for a 50-day recess, hopes have dimmed that a law to establish a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders—at least one that complies with UN standards—will ever be passed, observers warned on Wednesday.
The government’s minister of Cabinet, Sok An, was set to meet the Assembly’s legislation commission today, a meeting that in essence would have started the law on its way to ratification.
But he changed his schedule, marking the second cancellation in the nearly two months since a UN envoy left Cambodia with the understanding that agreements between the UN and the government would eventually be passed into law. Last week, commission members confirmed that Sok An was set to brief them on the Khmer Rouge draft but said Wednesday he will come Friday to discuss an unrelated topic.
The Assembly’s break and the stalled meetings on the Khmer Rouge law come just a week before Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a government delegation to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Negotiators had hoped Hun Sen and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would seal a deal in New York on holding an international-style tribunal in Phnom Penh.
But without any good news to report, it’s doubtful the UN will continue to be patient.
“If no significant action is taken…it will be easy for the UN to pull out of this process. And it will be very clear the government is to blame. The world is watching,” said a Phnom Penh-based diplomat who is close to the negotiations.
The UN’s undersecretary for legal affairs, Hans Corell, said as much when he left Cambodia in July. He warned that the world body would be “unable to proceed” if the Assembly fails to pass the law.
Observers for months have feared the government is merely using the National Assembly as a political scapegoat to shoulder the blame if the UN-backed law is not passed. The government’s executive branch, the Council of Ministers, first drafted and approved the law in January. Executives then forged a verbal agreement with the UN to allow international jurists a heavy hand in the trial.
But by handing the measure off to lawmakers—who could alter the law or just not pass it at all—analysts suggest the government is merely washing its hands of the process entirely.
“It’s all just the government’s delay tactics,” said Lao Mong Hay, executive director of the Khmer Institute of Democracy. “Passing the buck around, from the government to the parliament…is just a series of maneuvers to wear out the patience of the UN.”
A source close to National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said the Prince has as much as admitted that as a junior partner in the coalition government, he will follow the government’s wishes, and those wishes might be to continue stalling debate until the UN finally pulls out of the process.
One CPP lawmaker, however, defended the ruling party and said if the Assembly still wants to debate the Khmer Rouge law during the recess, it could call a special session.
“I think the law could only take two weeks of discussion in the legislation commission” before it went to the full Assembly for debate, said Ek Som Ol, the commission’s deputy chairman.
But if the deal to finally bring to justice those responsible for more than one million deaths from 1975-1979 falls through, it will be the Cambodian people who lose out, Lao Mong Hay said.
“To have no trial means the Khmer Rouge will stay with us forever.”