With the UN close to a vote on an agreement to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge, a human rights group Wednesday urged the General Assembly to change the agreement before considering it.
“Cambodians deserve the highest standards of justice to prosecute those responsible,” wrote Mike Jendrzejczyk, Washington director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch. “They deserve to know the truth about what happened, and why. Instead, this proposal represents the lowest standards yet for a tribunal.”
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the agreement is expected to go before the human rights committee of the General Assembly this week, the last major hurdle for UN approval of the tribunal.
The agreement, reached March 17 in Phnom Penh, would create a tribunal within Cambodia’s existing courts staffed by a majority of local judges, an arrangement unlike tribunals formed for the Rwandan and Yugoslavian genocides and so tilted toward Cambodian control that critics have condemned it as a third-rate effort.
Others have said the trial should go forward, however, because it remains the last and best chance to try aging leaders of a regime blamed for the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the man who ordered his negotiators to reach an agreement after nearly six years of talks, has given the draft agreement only tenuous support because it relies heavily on the corruption-plagued Cambodian judiciary.
“I cannot but recall the reports of my Special Representative for human rights in Cambodia, who has consistently found there to be little respect on the part of Cambodian courts for the most elementary features of the right to a fair trial,” Annan wrote of the agreement one month ago in a letter to the UN General Assembly.
The agreement fares poorly as well among human rights groups, who say it fails to adhere to internationally accepted principles of justice.
Jendrzejczyk said in a statement the draft is based on confusing and contradictory laws and does little to protect witnesses, victims and court personnel.
If UN member states approve the agreement it would next go to Cambodia’s National Assembly for debate.
Plans for a tribunal nearly died last year when the UN pulled out of talks after months of frustration and delay.
The General Assembly, led by Japan, the US, France and others, ordered Annan to return to the negotiating table and reach an agreement with Cambodian negotiators. The agreement emerged less than three months after talks resumed.
The agreement could still be changed as it has been initialed but not yet signed by either side. Major amendments were debated as late as January, when Annan instructed his negotiators to propose that a majority of the tribunal judges come from outside Cambodia.
Control of the court has long been a major point of contention, and the last-minute UN proposal was firmly rejected by Cambodian negotiators, according to a statement from Annan.
The agreement now calls for seven Cambodian judges and five international ones in the Extraordinary Chambers. It also allows the UN to withdraw from the tribunal at any point.