Despite his verbal agreement with the UN on the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday warned that the deal struck last weekend on details for the long-anticipated prosecution could fall apart at the National Assembly.
“I have no right to shut up any parliamentarian by not allowing them to raise a new [trial] formula or not allowing them to debate the issue,” Hun Sen said at a ground-breaking ceremony for a Japanese-funded tuberculosis center.
The Assembly is scheduled to begin debate on the tribunal this month.
US Senator John Kerry, who visited last week and brokered the deal between Hun Sen and the UN, warned that the National Assembly’s tampering with the trial plan could force the UN to withdrawal entirely from the legal proceedings.
Key parliamentarians and government advisers, though, have said the trial agreement was made only between Hun Sen and the UN, and that serious debate on the proposed trial formula would occur in the Assembly before the plan is made into law and sent to the UN.
The UN had initially asked for a written agreement before the Assembly’s debate, but conceded this point after talks with Kerry.
A spokesman in New York said the UN is withholding comment on Kerry’s visit until the government contacts them formally about the latest developments.
One western diplomatic source acknowledged that both Hun Sen and cabinet minister Sok An—who represented the government during last weekend’s negotiations—would have to work to sell the trial plan to members of their party, the CPP.
The CPP holds 64 of the Assembly’s 122 seats. Funcinpec holds 43 seats and the Sam Rainsy Party 15.
Members of the CPP expressed concerns last month that a tribunal could degenerate into a political witch-hunt by the party’s rivals. Key party officials were part of the Khmer Rouge before fleeing Pol Pot in 1977 or 1978, including Heng Samrin, Chea Sim, Sar Kheng and Hun Sen, though researchers have said no evidence has surfaced linking them to atrocities.
Other diplomatic officials have said they don’t expect any serious modifications to the plan by Assembly members.
“Hun Sen definitely controls the National Assembly—he is the most powerful man in Cambodia,” one Asian diplomat said Tuesday.
“But the letters from[UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan were quite blunt.
“They’ve come to the bottom line already and I don’t expect [Hun Sen] would be extreme in any modifications he makes,” the diplomat said.
Still, any changes that are made to the plan as it is passed into law are likely to have already been decided by the time debate begins in the Assembly, the diplomat said.
Perhaps the biggest point of the plan yet to be finalized is the proposed scope of the trial, which is contained in Article 1 of the current draft law.
Hun Sen said Tuesday that he supports the draft that seeks to prosecute only those who committed crimes between 1975 and 1979.
But he has also suggested expanding the prosecutions to cover the entirety of Cambodia’s 30-year civil war—a move that would likely implicate foreign powers who at times supported the Khmer Rouge, including China and the US.
Though Hun Sen stepped back from a motion to change the draft law and expand the trial’s scope after meeting with Kerry, he again said Tuesday that there is a “trend” of support for doing so.
“There are a lot of crimes that happened in Cambodia, not just between 1975 and 1979,” Hun Sen said. “The trend for wanting a prosecution [for crimes committed] between 1970 and 1999 is becoming obvious.”
The trial’s scope is likely to be further discussed by Sok An and UN negotiator Hans Corell, according to Kerry.
He said there may be some minor tweaking of that aspect of the draft law.