Minister of Cabinet Sok An said Monday the government is currently working to create a “pilot court” that would be set up to meet international judicial standards and could be used to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge.
Although the creation of a domestic court used to try Khmer Rouge leaders implies that the government is going forward with a non-UN assisted Khmer Rouge trial, Sok An said this is “not so.”
“We have discussed this pilot court with the international community and donors, and it would not only be for the Khmer Rouge leaders,” Sok An said at a news conference on judicial reform at the Ministry of Justice on Monday.
Helen Jarvis, an adviser to Sok An and the Khmer Rouge tribunal task force, confirmed Monday that the government is considering creating a domestic “model court” that would be up to international standards and could be used to try Khmer Rouge leaders.
She added, however, that Sok An had no intention of making a “political statement” and did not mean that Cambodia would go forward with a non-UN assisted trial.
“As part of the legal and judicial reforms, this [model court] has been brought up several times,” Jarvis said. “It would be set up as an example for the other courts. What Sok An meant was that whatever the option for the Khmer Rouge trial is—if it is a completely domestic trial or assisted by the international community—it would be up to international standards.”
In early February, the UN pulled out of the Khmer Rouge trial talks, claiming that negotiations between the world body and the government had fallen apart.
Diplomats and government officials have criticized the UN’s decision and expressed fears that the aging Khmer Rouge leaders—such as former Khmer Rouge military leader Ta Mok and former Tuol Sleng prison director Duch—will never be tried for their alleged crimes during the ultra-leftist regime that left more than 1 million people dead in the late 1970s.
Ta Mok and Duch have been detained in a military prison for more than three years.
On Monday, UN human rights envoy Peter Leuprecht said “friendly governments” are currently working to get the UN and the government back to the negotiating table so they can hold further talks on the Khmer Rouge trial.
“I have some reasons to believe that the Cambodian government is still eager to hold a Khmer Rouge tribunal with the UN,” Leuprecht said.
So far, only India has said it would assist Cambodia with a trial, but only if the government decides to move ahead with trials without the UN’s involvement. Leuprecht said conducting a tribunal without the UN would be “a second-best solution. It is interesting to see that even India considers this a second-best solution.”
While Leuprecht did not comment on the idea of a “pilot” or model court meeting international standards that would be used to try Khmer Rouge leaders, he said a purely domestic tribunal would lack credibility because of the weak state of the judiciary.
“The trial would lack credibility in the eyes of the Cambodian people and that is the most important,” Leuprecht said. “This is a very delicate issue and we don’t want anyone to lose face.”