In the wake of Wednesday’s declarations by Prime Minister Hun Sen on the scope of Khmer Rouge prosecutions, Cabinet Minister Sok An met yesterday with visiting UN Legal Counsel Patricia O’Brien, officials said.
The Council of Ministers said no public statements would be released about the meeting with Ms O’Brien, who remained in Phnom Penh after the departure yesterday of visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
In remarks that may come to be seen as a gift to defense lawyers who have denounced what they see as naked political intervention by Mr Hun Sen and others, the premier personally informed Mr Ban that the tribunal would not proceed with genocide and crimes against humanity investigations which the government says are a threat to national security.
In a statement quickly released in New York, James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the premier “has just raised the stakes for the court dramatically.”
“The UN must publicly condemn such statements and demand that political interference cease if the UN is to continue to support the court,” he said in the statement.
Speaking to reporters yesterday, Mr Ban said only that the continuation of the court’s investigations was a matter under judicial review but that it would be discussed with representatives of donor countries.
Both UN and Cambodian officials in the tribunal’s public affairs office said yesterday that the court would dutifully apply the law but would not comment directly on the premier’s remarks.
Mr Hun Sen in the 1990s publicly opposed trials for three Khmer Rouge leaders whose cases are nevertheless to proceed next year: communist party Deputy Secretary Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan and Foreign Minister Ieng Sary.
Though Mr Hun Sen’s words contained little he had not said on numerous occasions in the last ten years, the remarks were personally and publicly delivered to Mr Ban moments before his first visit to the tribunal, perhaps reducing the likelihood of a future about-face by the government.
In response to questions submitted yesterday, the US Embassy did not comment directly on Mr Hun Sen’s remarks but reiterated American support for the tribunal’s judicial independence.
“As always, we believe that deliberative process, and all judicial processes, should be free from political interference and other activities that interfere with the independence of the judicial process,” spokesman Mark Wenig said in an e-mail.