Prince Sisowath Thomico has asked Prime Minister Hun Sen to consider shutting down the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, slamming the court as an affront to justice and a threat to national and regional stability.
In a letter to Hun Sen dated Sunday, a copy of which was received Monday, Prince Thomico wrote, “I believe that this ECCC will really cause political chaos, inevitably making our country lose peace and stability in the future.”
He continued by asking that the prime minister “examine the possibility of shutting down the ECCC at this stage,” and urged Hun Sen to “find a way to end this crisis in order to maintain stability in the country as well as the region.”
Prince Thomico said by telephone Monday that he had written the letter because he felt that he hadn’t weighed in on the protracted controversy over whether retired King Norodom Sihanouk might testify at the tribunal.
Currently a senior adviser to Funcinpec President Keo Puth Rasmey, Prince Thomico had previously served as the retired King’s secretary.
A little-known US group who called for the retired King to be compelled to testify at the ECCC sparked the latest tribunal controversy. Shortly, thereafter Norodom Sihanouk invited UN tribunal officials to the Royal Palace to discuss his experiences under the Khmer Rouge regime.
The retired King had maintained that this palace meeting with UN tribunal officials would stand instead of his testimony before the court. The UN, however, declined the invitation to the palace on the grounds that such testimony would not comply with the court’s procedural norms.
Prince Thomico’s letter was not met with immediate support from CPP officials Monday.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said the prime minister does not have the power to cut short the work of the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
“It’s not the role of the prime minister to terminate it,” he said, adding: “It must go through the National Assembly.”
Khieu Kanharith also called Prince Thomico’s letter unnecessary, saying that if the ECCC voted to summon the retired King to testify it would be acting in violation of the Constitution and a law passed by the National Assembly in 2004 that makes the retired King “untouchable.”
“If the ECCC acts against the decision of the National Assembly, the ECCC would be outlawed,” he said.
Khieu Kanharith also vowed that the Khmer Rouge tribunal would proceed, with or without the participation of the UN.
“This I can guarantee you,” he said, referring to a provision in the 2004 law establishing the ECCC, which allows Cambodia to appoint national judges should international officials abandon the process.
National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel said that the Assembly could not honor Prince Thomico’s request.
“The National Assembly cannot terminate the international tribunal,” he said.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen also cannot kick out the ECCC because it would affect his reputation,” he said, adding that the tribunal process would not “provoke turmoil.”
The tribunal’s UN spokesman, Peter Foster, declined to respond to Prince Thomico’s letter Monday, saying only: “The court has the support of the United Nations and the government of Cambodia. It was ratified by Parliament and had the approval of the King at that time.”
Prince Thomico in his letter also expressed a more personal anguish, not uncommon among survivors of the Khmer Rouge.
“I have no hope that I will obtain justice from this ECCC,” he wrote, adding in a telephone interview that he feared the work of the court was becoming too politicized.
His father, Prince Sisowath Methavy, was a cousin of Norodom Sihanouk, and his mother, Nanette Izzi, was Queen Monineath’s sister. Both disappeared in 1978 from Boeng Trabek, a Khmer Rouge “re-education” camp in Phnom Penh, where Cambodian intellectuals and members of the Cambodian royal family were imprisoned, he said.
Prince Thomico said the court’s jurisdiction, which limits prosecution to top leaders and those most responsible for Khmer Rouge crimes, is too narrow to render true justice.
“I care more about peace and stability in Cambodia than finding out what happened 30 years ago,” he added. “The future of Cambodia has nothing to do with this tribunal.”
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said that, like all citizens, Prince Thomico has the right to express his opinion as a private individual, but added that his letter to Hun Sen does not represent Funcinpec’s stance on the issue.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)