Ieng Sary’s amnesty, Dith Munthy’s political affiliations, the ongoing UN-Cambodia “melodrama” and the future of the Khmer Rouge tribunal were the topics of a 2 1/2-hour panel discussion Friday at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia.
Khmer Rouge scholar Craig Etcheson told a large crowd Cambodia should not expect the UN—which abruptly pulled out of efforts to form the tribunal on Feb 8—to return to the negotiating table.
“The UN is not coming back,” Etcheson said. “It is time to start thinking about other schemes.”
Etcheson, a visiting scholar at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, was one of four panelists invited by the Foreign Journalists’ Club of Cambodia. Democracy activist Lao Mong Hay, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith and Helen Jarvis, an adviser to the government’s task force on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, also spoke.
Khieu Kanharith said the government is determined to go ahead with prosecuting former Khmer Rouge leaders. He said forming a tribunal without any international participation is one option. But he said the government would prefer the UN take part in the tribunal because of its leading role in forming the 1991 peace agreement.
“The question is not ‘to be or not to be.’ It must be. It is a reminder to the next generation” that there are consequences for illegal actions, he said.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said Cambodia would go ahead with or without the UN’s participation. Etcheson pointed out that statement contrasted with Hun Sen’s remarks Wednesday, in which he gave the UN three months to resume negotiations.
Lao Mong Hay urged the government to make concessions to satisfy the UN demands. Jarvis and Khieu Kanharith said the government has complied with each of the UN’s requests. That includes assuring UN legal counsel Hans Corell in writing that former Democratic Kampuchea foreign minister Ieng Sary could be prosecuted, according to Jarvis.
“The law is a product of the UN negotiations,” she said.
Etcheson pointed to Supreme Court President Dith Munthy’s possible role as a top official on the tribunal as one source of concern to the UN, which doubts the independence of Cambodia’s judiciary. Dith Munthy is also a member of the CPP’s elite Standing Committee.
Khieu Kanharith denied politics would play a role in any tribunal decision. “It is better to talk about the text of the law, rather than on an assumption of strategy,” he said.
But Lao Mong Hay said he suspected the government was never serious about UN involvement, and implied the UN negotiations were merely a way for Cambodia to satisfy demands of international donors. “In the end, the UN [pullout] may have been a good escape route” for the government, he said.