In a surprise move, the Council of Ministers on Friday tabled passage of a government draft law that would establish a trial of one-time Khmer Rouge leaders, saying they are poised for further discussion with the UN on how to conduct the proceedings.
“We are open. The government is very open now. We already have some corrections [to make] on the present draft,” said Minister of Cabinet Sok An, adding that the ministers will re-address the plan on Jan 6 instead of forwarding it now to the National Assembly.
“The delay is to have more recommendations from the international community, so the draft will have high standards, in conformity with Cambodian law and not contrary to international law,” Sok An said. He then ticked off a list of concerns various ministers had with the draft during the four-hour meeting—including increasing the pool of Cambodian judges, clearly defining the role of an investigating judge and, namely, deciding who would pay for the trial.
In his opening address Friday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen spurned UN financial assistance that he said would only “internationalize” the process.
“We do not want a fund from the UN for the Khmer Rouge trial,” Hun Sen told the ministers. “Cambodia can fund the judges and prosecutors from Cambodia, whereas foreigners who want to take part can fund themselves.”
The government’s latest draft law, however, said a UN trust fund should bankroll the trial, headed by Cambodian judges and allowing for UN consultation in appointing foreign judges.
But the government apparently backed down from that request on Friday, hinting that allowing the UN to pay would give it too much leverage over the trial.
Instead, officials suggested the trial be paid for by a combination of donations from the UN, NGOs and individual countries, and would include an effort from the Cambodian government—although Sok An said the government neither knows how much the trial would cost nor has planned to include them in a national budget.
The draft law took shape early this week and was forwarded to the UN on Monday. At UN headquarters in New York on Thursday, officials asked for further talks on the law before the draft proceeds through the Cambodian legislative system.
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan sent a letter to the government on Thursday with the UN response: “We look forward to further discussions with them,” according to UN spokesman Fred Eckhard.
Sok An said he had not yet heard of any plans for UN officials to visit Cambodia for further talks, but he did not rule out the possibility.
The last visit by UN legal experts came in August, when the two sides could not agree whether foreign or Cambodian judges would hold sway over the court’s bench.
(Additional reporting by the Associated Press)