The legislators who passed the 1994 immunity law intended to end the violence between Khmer Rouge rebels and government forces did not expect the wording of that law to cause further divisiveness six years later.
But with last week’s release of former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin possibly hinging on the exact wording of a single provision, lawyers, lawmakers, diplomats and NGO workers are scrambling to review copies of the 6-year-old law.
The provision was used by Chhouk Rin’s lawyer to win the acquittal of his client, charged in connection with the train raid that ended in the murder of three foreign backpackers in 1994. The attack occurred only weeks after the law passed in July and a couple months before Chhouk Rin defected to the government in October.
Probably the most controversial phrase in the provision states that for six months after the law went into effect, members of the Khmer Rouge could integrate into the government “without being punished for crimes they have committed.”
Debate stirs around the word “have,” which some say could either refer to crimes committed before the law passed, or crimes committed before defecting to the government.
“Anyone who committed a crime during that period should be punished. The law did not say that for six months, even if you commit crime, you won’t be punished,” said Ouk Vandeth, legal director of Legal Aid of Cambodia.
Regardless of the law’s intent, many people agree the law could use clarification.
“The problem is that they were writing the law just to get the Khmer Rouge to join the government,” said Sok Sam Oeun, executive director of the Cambodian Defenders Project.
“But they weren’t looking carefully at the law’s implications beyond the six months,” he said.
Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians submitted a formal request Monday to have this provision of the law clarified.
The letter was sent to the Constitutional Council, the government body in charge of clarifying laws, asking them to review the article of the “Law Outlawing the ‘Democratic Kampuchea’ Group’.”
The Cambodian government is also appealing the court’s decision.