The Senate unanimously approved the draft law to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge after a debate Monday that focused on whether Ieng Sary, deputy premier of Democratic Kampuchea, could—or would—be tried under the legislation.
The 51-0 vote clears the way for the draft to move to the next phase in which it will be reviewed by the Constitutional Council. Afterward, King Norodom Sihanouk will consider the law.
It remains to be seen how soon a trial would begin, especially since the UN recently sent a letter to the government questioning many parts of the draft law.
During the debate, Funcinpec Senator Sin Po asked whether Ieng Sary could be tried under the legislation, while Senator Thach Setha of the Sam Rainsy Party asked if Prime Minister Hun Sen was serious when he said there would be war if Ieng Sary is tried.
Hun Sen has repeatedly defended Ieng Sary, saying the man known as Brother No 3 under the Khmer Rouge regime helped bring peace to Cambodia by leading a mass defection to the government in 1996.
In exchange, King Sihanouk granted Ieng Sary amnesty for a 1979 conviction in which he and Pol Pot were sentenced to death in absentia.
The draft law states that those who will be tried are Khmer Rouge senior leaders and those “most responsible” during the Khmer Rouge regime of April 17, 1975 to Jan 6, 1979.
Thach Setha said all Khmer Rouge leaders must be inside the “net of the law.”
“Hun Sen said there is 100 percent peace now,” Thach Setha said. “Even [Pailin Governor and former Khmer Rouge commander] Y Chhien said there would be no war. So why is the government afraid of war coming?”
Opposition Senator Kong Koam said if Ieng Sary is not tried, the Cambodian people would not get justice.
“They [Cambodians] will die without justice,” he said. “Ieng Sary has used his win-win policy since April 17, 1975. Finally, the Khmer Rouge leaders are the happiest in Cambodia.”
Minister of Cabinet Sok An, who heads the government’s negotiating team, said the Khmer Rouge trial judges and prosecutors will decide who will be tried. He also said the draft law states the government cannot request amnesty for anybody.
But, Sok An added, trying Ieng Sary would return insecurity to Cambodia, and said the government should not make the Khmer Rouge worried.
“The Khmer Rouge who joined the government would be upset,” Sok An said. “They would run back to the jungle.”
After Monday’s debate, CPP Senator Ouk Boun Chhoeun said he disagreed, and Ieng Sary should be tried.
“All the Khmer Rouge are suspects so they must be questioned and investigated by the prosecutor and judge,” he said. “People who commit crimes cannot be forgiven.”
Kem Sokha, a Funcinpec senator, said if Ieng Sary is not tried, people will criticize the tribunal.
“Ieng Sary is a high leader so he is a suspect, and he must be tried,” he said.
Ou Bunlong, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, asked Sok An if the Senate could see the UN letter on the draft law. “I want to know whether it says there are serious problems in the law,” he said.
Sok An declined to disclose the letter, but said the government and the UN are going to meet soon to discuss the draft law.
“It’s a small, tiny thing,” Sok An said of the UN concerns. “It’s not a big deal.”
Thach Setha also questioned what would happen to the tribunal if the UN is unable to hire any foreign judges. Under the draft law, three tribunals would be created for the trial level, appeals stage and supreme court.
The trial court would have five judges, three of whom would be Cambodian. The appeals stage would have four Cambodians, while five Cambodians and four foreigners would sit on the supreme court bench.
The Cambodian staff would be paid through the national budget, while the foreigners would receive their salaries through the UN trust fund.
Rulings would require super majorities at all three levels, meaning four out of five agreeing at the trial level, five of seven at the appeals level and six of nine at the supreme court.
Sok An said if the UN cannot hire judges, then Cambodian judges would be asked to fill those spots.