Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday sharply criticized those who have questioned the qualifications of the judges and prosecutors recently appointed to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, describing them as animals.
Speaking at a graduation ceremony at the Royal School for Administration, the prime minister said he wanted to teach critics not to belittle Cambodia when it came to the tribunal.
“They are not human. They are animals,” he said of the unnamed foreign and Cambodian critics of the trial appointees.
“They become animals because they don’t know their own background. They even want to seduce their own parents. This is acting like animals,” he said.
Hun Sen singled out one unidentified person who he said had raised a question about the Supreme Council of Magistracy’s appointment of the Cambodian judges and prosecutors.
“If the Supreme Council of Magistracy has appointed [a judge], that is the appointment. The King presided over the meeting. We should not joke about it,” Hun Sen said.
He added that critics are beginning to question the capability of the Cambodian court.
“If the Khmer Court is not capable, why have you come to live in Cambodia? If you live in Toronto, please stay there,” he said of the unnamed critic.
Legal analyst Lao Mong Hay, who at a Wednesday news conference at the Council of Ministers asked which tribunal appointees belonged to which Cambodian political parties, said he believed Hun Sen’s comments may have been aimed at him. He said that he had lived in Canada until last month.
“If a citizen is an animal, what about the leaders?” Lao Mong Hay said, adding that he was not concerned for his safety following the prime minister’s bitter verbal attack. “I am old. I will die [anyway],” he said.
CPP government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Hun Sen had not intended to compare those who criticize the tribunal with animals.
“Hun Sen wanted to stress that these people have forgotten their origins,” Khieu Kanharith maintained.
Naly Pilorge, director of local rights group Licadho, who wrote a scathing criticism of tribunal Judge Ney Thol Tuesday stating that his appointment “gravely tarnished the tribunal’s credibility,” declined to comment on Hun Sen’s speech on Friday evening.
Khmer Rouge tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said that Hun Sen’s speech “was based on the facts and the reality of the situation” in Cambodia. He declined to elaborate.
The prime minister also accused the UN of hypocrisy in its attitude toward the Khmer Rouge tribunal, noting yet again that the world body had allowed the Khmer Rouge to hold a UN seat during the 1980s.
“When the Khmer Rouge were killing people, they occupied a seat at the UN. And when the Khmer Rouge collapsed, the Khmer Rouge also occupied a UN seat. Now we call on the UN to participate in the trial.” Hun Sen said.
“This is just like a slap,” he added, “for those who supported the Khmer Rouge and imposed sanctions on us.”
Hun Sen also rounded on unnamed NGOs, accusing them of trying to control the government. “I will allow you to monitor but not to control the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the National Assembly and the government,” he said of the NGOs, adding that they did not know the value of democracy.
“I would like to inform you that I can establish 5,000 NGOs in less than a month,” he added.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay said he was very disappointed that the prime minister had threatened his critics.
“As a poor nation we should encourage critical thinking. It will help the government to improve its performance,” he said.
He added that as a Cambodian citizen, Lao Mong Hay has as much right as anyone else to live in Cambodia.
“I appreciate what Lao Mong Hay has done for his country for all these years,” Son Chhay said.“It only raises more concern among the public that the prime minister is still learning to live up to the democratic environment.”
(Additional reporting by William Shaw)