Ieng Sary Discussed; UN Has Questions
Whether Ieng Sary could or should be prosecuted in a Khmer Rouge tribunal was one of the main issues brought up by senators in a surprisingly substantive debate on the draft law Thursday.
Meanwhile, Minister of Cabinet Sok An told senators he received a letter from UN Deputy Secretary-General Hans Corell, who questioned parts of the draft law.
Sok An said he would meet with UN officials soon to discuss the law. He said he does not believe the UN’s comments will affect the draft law approved by the National Assembly last week after two days of discussion with little debate.
“I don’t think there will be any major changes to the draft law,” said Sok An, who heads the government’s negotiating team. “I hope there’s no change to this law again because the discussions we’ve had already have been quite long.”
Senators approved five chapters of the 19-chapter Khmer Rouge trial draft law during a daylong session Thursday. In the morning, 54 senators unanimously approved chapter one, while all of the 51 senators present for the afternoon session approved chapters two through five. The chapters describe who will be tried, the period covered by the trial and explanations of acts of genocide and crimes against humanity.
For Funcinpec Senator Khieu San, the debate was an emotional one. Tears ran down his face while he talked about how his family members were killed by the regime blamed for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians.
“I was a prisoner in the Khmer Rouge regime,” he said. “I’m so disappointed that millions of Cambodians were killed. ”
Khieu San said that whether former Khmer Rouge deputy premier Ieng Sary will be tried depends on the court, a day after Prime Minister Hun Sen warned there would be war if the man known as Brother No 3 during the Khmer Rouge regime is prosecuted. “I don’t believe that war will come back again” Khieu San said. “No one likes war.”
Hun Sen has repeatedly said Ieng Sary brought peace to Cambodia by leading a mass defection of Khmer Rouge cadre, who joined the government in 1996.
That year, King Norodom Sihanouk granted Ieng Sary amnesty for a 1979 conviction that sentenced him and Pol Pot to death in absentia. The King has said the amnesty does not prevent Ieng Sary from being tried in an international tribunal.
CPP Senator Ouk Boun Chhoeun, chairman of the legislation committee, also said the tribunal would have to decide whether Ieng Sary should be tried.
“It depends on whether the prosecutor can find enough evidence to charge Ieng Sary,” Ouk Boun Chhoeun said. “What Hun Sen said doesn’t mean the court is banned from trying Ieng Sary.”
Sok An reiterated Hun Sen’s comments, and told senators that the trial must achieve both justice and peace. “You cannot do anything without peace,” he said. “You cannot try the Khmer Rouge without stability.”
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Chao Phally questioned why the law dealt with crimes committed only between April 17, 1975 and Jan 6, 1979. He said when he lived in Ratanakkiri province in 1972, the Khmer Rouge had already begun killing people.
“The killings already started in my province, as well as in Mondolkiri and Stung Treng,” Chao Phally said. “I would like the Senate to change the date to make it from 1972 to 1979.”
Sok An said the 1975-to-1979 period was discussed many times with the UN. “It was decided that 1975 was the time when the Khmer Rouge started to control Cambodia and began the official killings,” Sok An said. “If we go to 1972, then we should also go past 1979 because the Khmer Rouge existed for many years after that.”
A few senators questioned why foreign countries that supported the Khmer Rouge, such as China and Vietnam, were not included in the draft law. Sok An said foreign countries were left out for political and legal reasons.
Sam Rainsy Party senator Thach Setha questioned whether the Cambodian judges chosen to participate in the tribunal would be competent. He also complained that the law did not provide compensation for the victims.
“Don’t look down on Cambodian judges,” Sok An responded. “This law cannot go forward without Cambodian judges because Cambodians have a right to show their views on this. And we have to show the international community that we can do this.”
Sam Rainsy Party Senator Kem Sokha said the trial will set a good example for the public to understand that criminals won’t go free.
But, he said the National Assembly passed the law too quickly. And, terms like “senior leaders” and “those most responsible”—used in the draft law to describe who could be prosecuted in a tribunal—should be defined, Kem Sokha said.
“The Khmer Rouge killed my relatives in front of me, so I’m happy to see a trial,” he said. “I’m not clear who the Khmer Rouge leaders are. If it just means Pol Pot, then that means nothing.”
Debate on the legislation resumes today. Ouk Boun Chhoeun said he did not know when the Senate would get through all 19 chapters of the draft law.
After the Senate is finished with the law, it will go to the Constitutional Council and then to King Norodom Sihanouk.