Talks between the UN and the government on a Khmer Rouge tribunal are continuing despite the UN’s decision to abandon formal negotiations in February, Prime Minister Hun Sen told donors Thursday.
“High-level negotiations are ongoing behind the scene and have been constructive,” he said in comments delivered to members of the international community assembled in Phnom Penh this week for the annual donors meeting.
The premier also asked for patience from the world community and pledged that his government is sincere in its wish to see the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime tried in a court that meets international standards.
“I ask the world at large to understand and appreciate our position and have trust in our sincere wish and ability to pursue the matter to a satisfactory conclusion,” Hun Sen said.
His statements may be intended to stave off criticism from the international donors, who at last year’s annual meeting made a Khmer Rouge tribunal one of only two requests to the government. The other request, an independent government auditor’s office, was established last year.
Hun Sen’s comments fell on the three-month deadline he set March 20 for the UN to return to the bargaining table after five years of negotiations collapsed in February. He said at the time that if the UN did not return, Cambodia would proceed with a tribunal of its own using assistance from friendly foreign nations.
Hun Sen is now the third person to state publicly that the UN and Cambodian negotiators remain in contact with each other: former US ambassador to Cambodia Kent Wiedemann and the UN’s special human rights envoy to Cambodia, Peter Leuprecht, have both said that UN member states continue to shuttle messages between the two sides.
A report in Kyodo news said the Japanese government was among the nations taking the lead in the ongoing talks, though an official at the Japanese Embassy in Phnom Penh said Thursday that he could not confirm or deny the statement.
“It’s very difficult for us to make a comment. We don’t deny [this] but there is some slight difference, but we cannot say in detail,” said Katsuhiro Shinohara, minister and counselor at the Japanese Embassy.
The UN’s lead negotiator in the talks, meanwhile, wrote in the International Herald Tribune Wednesday that the UN pulled out of negotiations with Cambodia after determining that the court would fall short of “necessary international standards of independence, impartiality and objectivity.”
“The Cambodian government asserted that domestic law passed by its parliament establishing the court should be the final word. Because the domestic law could be changed by parliament at any time, there would be no guarantees against delays or political influence,” wrote Hans Corell, the director of the UN’s legal affairs office.
The comments echo those he made to The Cambodia Daily earlier this month.
The timing of Corell’s statement, on the opening day of the donor’s meeting, seemed intended to announce the UN’s side of the collapsed negotiations before the international community heard from Hun Sen.
Hun Sen, meanwhile, used his comments Thursday to reiterate his position that a tribunal should follow Cambodia laws.
“I have always maintained that any solution has to be Cambodian in nature while certainly conforming to accepted international norms,” he said.
“We realize that if we do not learn the lessons of history, history will repeat itself. Therefore, in resolving our past, we can ill-afford to leave our destiny totally in the hands of others…. In judging the past, our partners need to trust and be confident that our government is deeply and responsibly committed to the building of a bright and sustainable future for its own nation.”
The premier also told donors of the government’s desire to create a “model” court in order to “promote integrity, impartiality of judges.” Minister of Cabinet Sok An said earlier this month that the model court, which would meet international standards of justice, could be used to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.