In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Hun Sen, the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights this week urged the premier to accept the UN’s plan for a tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
“In our view it is critical that the future tribunal be independent, effective and fair and be perceived as such if justice is to be done,” stated Tuesday’s letter from the New York-based organization.
The government’s plan is to set up a tribunal within the existing municipal court with a majority of Cambodian judges.
The UN has called for a more international-style tribunal, within the country and adhering to Cambodian law yet separate from the current legal system and one in which the majority of judges would be appointed by the UN. The UN and human rights groups alike have criticized Cambodian courts as unprepared to hold a fair trial of those responsible for the more than one million deaths during the 1975-79 rule of Democratic Kampuchea.
After a trip here to monitor the recent trial of Licadho rights workers Kim Sen and Meas Minear, the Lawyers Committee concluded “it will be very difficult to find a group of Cambodian judges who will enjoy sufficient independence,” the letter said.
Although the two eventually were cleared of charges of inciting protests over toxic waste dumped near Sihanoukville late last year, rights groups said the three-day proceedings did not constitute a thorough or fair trial.
A senior adviser to the prime minister said Thursday that Hun Sen feels little pressure from groups like the Lawyers Committee.
“They do not yet understand the reality here. They just know one side—the UN side,” said Om Yentieng.
The Lawyers Committee letter specifically suggests that to gain legitimacy abroad, the tribunal must include a majority of UN-appointed judges, a provision the government so far has rejected.
It also pushes for the rights of the accused, including a proper defense and appeals process. While these provisions were not included in the first UN tribunal proposal, they appeared in the plan formally presented to the government when a UN team negotiated here last month.
The Lawyers Committee letter was addressed to Hun Sen, care of Cambodia’s UN representative in New York. Hun Sen arrived in New York this week to meet with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and is scheduled to speak to the UN General Assembly Sept 20.