Any agreement between the government and the US over trying former Khmer Rouge leaders should fall within already established UN standards of justice, local and international groups urged this weekend.
“We welcome recent reports that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen may be ready to return to discussions on a tribunal with international participation,” Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia division of New York-based Human Rights Watch, wrote in a statement Friday.
“But any discussion must be based on international principles and standards.”
The statement came in response to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s announcement last week that he has accepted US attempts to soften differences between his government and the UN over how to try those behind more than 1 million deaths during Democratic Kampuchea’s rule.
The US suggestions would assemble a court with a majority of Cambodian judges, but agreement with foreign judges would be required for the panel to reach a verdict. Still unclear is who would appoint the judges.
US proposals also would limit the court’s jurisdiction to the years of 1975-1979 and the focus of the trial to the key group of one-time Khmer Rouge leaders.
After presenting the proposal to government officials in recent weeks, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann stressed that US ideas in no way fall outside minimum requirements laid out by a UN team of experts in August.
Before the UN will decide on whether to involve itself in the trial, it must first see a draft law the government is completing to establish the court. While UN officials are hopeful a deal can be reached, they stress that local courts could not provide a fair and impartial trial.
Cambodian legal groups this weekend voiced similar concerns, calling for the UN to appoint both the Cambodian and foreign judges.
“To protect independence of decisions of the judicial panel, impartiality, even in the face of intimidation, must be an un-negotiable qualification for all the judges,” read a statement from Cambodia’s Bar Association, Legal Aid of Cambodia and the Cambodian Defenders Project.
But Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong assured reporters on Saturday the government is now committed to compromise with the UN. While he said the proceedings should be held within existing Cambodian courts, the government is ready “to show our willingness to have a very transparent trial of the Khmer Rouge that meets with international standards,” he said.
Returning from a trip to Laos with the prime minister, Hor Namhong added that the government is ready to “accept judges and prosecutors from foreign countries, friendly countries—and the United Nations as well.” (Additional reporting by Phann Ana)