The Khmer Rouge tribunal law could be signed by King Norodom Sihanouk as early next week, Minister of Cabinet Sok An told reporters Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the lawyer for Duch, one of the Khmer Rouge regime’s worst executioners, said his client is willing to testify against former Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
“He wants the trial to happen as soon as possible, because he wants to say the truth about what he was doing at S-21 and who ordered him to do the killing,” attorney Kar Savuth said.
Duch, also known as Kaing Khek Iev, was the chief of the Pol Pot regime’s Tuol Sleng S-21 political prison, where an estimated 16,000 people were tortured and killed.
Duch was arrested by the government in May 1999. He and former Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok are the only former Khmer Rouge cadre in custody.
Kar Savuth said Duch has expressed regret over his role in the Pol Pot regime, in which more than 1 million people died of execution, starvation, overwork or disease.
“During the struggle for the revolution, Duch worked to serve the people. But when the revolution succeeded, the regime turned to killing people. He told me that he has remorse and is very disappointed. He cursed the Khmer Rouge,” Kar Sarvuth said.
Duch was forced to serve as chief of S-21, and feared execution if he disobeyed his superiors, the attorney said.
“At the time, he asked to work handicrafts because he had skill with that,” he said.
The law governing the tribunal, which is to prosecute Duch, Ta Mok and other former Khmer Rouge leaders, was approved by the Constitutional Council Tuesday and will be forward to King Sihanouk for final approval.
“We welcome the action by the Constitutional Council,” UN spokesman Fred Eckhard was quoted by the Washington Post as saying in New York.
Sok An said the government is waiting for the assembly to send the law to the Council of Ministers before it gives it to the King.
“I expect it might be next week,” he said.
After the King signs the law, Sok An said copies of the law in English and Khmer will be sent to Hans Corell, chief of the UN Office of Legal Counsel at UN headquarters in New York.
“We have no intention to delay this work. When the process is finished, I will send this article to him. I don’t know how Corell will respond,” Sok An said.
During his visit to Phnom Penh in June, UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht said the UN won’t initiate negotiations with the government on a memorandum of understanding until an official translation is received in New York.
The memorandum of understanding with the UN is necessary to organize the tribunal, which is designed to include both Cambodian and international judges.
After the first version of the Khmer Rouge tribunal law was passed by parliament in January, Corell sent a letter to the government outlining the UN’s concerns with the law.
One concern was whether the tribunal would have the authority to indict any Khmer Rouge leader, even if that leader enjoys a government amnesty. Ieng Sary, the Khmer Rouge foreign minister known as “Brother No 3”, has that amnesty.
Those concerns are to be addressed in the upcoming negotiations. Sok An, head of the government’s tribunal task force, said Wednesday he would invite the UN legal team, headed by Corell, to Phnom Penh after the law is signed.
“When he comes, we will welcome him. The discussion will be on the points involving the cooperation and how to organize the cooperation on the tribunal,” Sok An said.
The minister added that he did not believe the UN would walk away from the tribunal if their concerns were not addressed, since the “main principle” of last year’s agreement between the UN and the government is already in the law.