KR Law May Stall as King Goes to China

The draft law to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge will most likely not be ready in time for King Norodom Sihanouk to consider before he leaves for China on Wednesday, government officials said Monday.

“It will be impossible [for the law to be ready],” said Leng Peng Long, a member of the Council of Jurists, which is charged with reviewing draft laws to ensure they are legally sound.

“As I know, the King is leaving very soon and we will not be finished with our work,” he said.

The Council of Jurists received the Khmer Rouge law Monday afternoon, a week after the Con­stitutional Council approved the measure, but noted a technical problem that the Council of Jurists must now examine.

The Constitutional Council said the draft law makes references to the 1956 penal code, which contains the death sentence as the punishment for homicide, torture and religious persecution. The Constitutional Council said the indirect references to the death penalty conflict with the Con­stitution and ordered references to the 1956 penal code be deleted.

The Council of Jurists is now reviewing those changes, which Leng Peng Long said will take some time.

After the Council of Jurists is finished with the law, it will be sent to Prime Minister Hun Sen for his signature. Finally, either the King or Senate President Chea Sim, who is acting head of state when the King is out of the country, will give the final consideration of the law.

“We must have time for promulgation,” Leng Peng Long said. “I just received the law today so we need time to review it.”

It is unclear whether the King or Chea Sim would sign the Khmer Rouge law.

Oum Sarith, adviser to Chea Sim and secretary general of the Senate, said Chea Sim could sign the law if the King allows it.

There has been speculation and rumors that King Sihanouk was reluctant to approve the Khmer Rouge law because of pressure from China, which was his second home during his years in exile or abroad.

In a public statement issued Monday, King Sihanouk announ­ced his departure for Beijing for a medical checkup, but made no reference to the Khmer Rouge law.

“If there is no critical health problem we [the King and Queen] both will return to our beloved country in early April,” King Sihanouk said in his statement.

US Ambassador Kent Wiede­mann said there might be a chance that the King would receive the draft law before he leaves, but acknowledged that time was running out.

However, Wiedemann said it wouldn’t pose a problem if the King didn’t sign the law, noting Chea Sim could approve the law in the King’s absence.

As to whether the King is avoiding considering the law or if it’s mere coincidence that his trip to China would prevent him from signing it, Wiedemann said “I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.”

Chea Vannath, president of the Center for Social Development, said it doesn’t matter who approves the draft, as long as the law is the best it can be.

“I don’t think it’s significant for the law or for the public if the King does or does not sign it,” she said. “It may have significance for him, but not for me.”

The government also has yet to respond to a letter sent by UN legal expert Hans Corell, who raised concerns about the Khmer Rouge law.

Sean Vissoth, a legal adviser to Minister of Cabinet Sok An, who is head of the government’s tribunal negotiating team, said he does not know when the government will respond.




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