UN Approves Resolution on KR Trial Talks

In what many observers are calling the last chance for credible justice for the more than 1 million victims of the Khmer Rouge, the UN Thursday passed a mandate re­quiring UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to return to the negotiating table with the government.

The resolution, which orders Annan to restart talks “without delay,” passed by a vote of 150-0, with 30 nations abstaining, according to a UN statement.

The government, who many observers have seen as the victors in the mandate, was subdued in their official reaction to the vote.

“We welcome it, but we’re waiting until [they] publish their re­quests. We don’t know what the proposal from the United Nations is,” government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said. “But you know well we are ready to talk about this and discuss this process.”

Opinion remained divided Thursday on what the new mandate means for the chances of bringing justice to Cambodia nearly three decades after the Khmer Rouge pushed the nation toward oblivion.

Ahead of the UN vote, which occurred Wednesday in New York, Amnesty International renewed calls to scrap the whole process and start anew, calling the mandate “heavily compromised” because it gives Cambodia primacy in the tribunal and does not insist on “internationally recognized standards of justice.”

The mandate calls for the tribunal to adhere to “international standards” of justice, which many see as a gaping loophole that could compromise the quality of the legal proceedings.

Amnesty is not alone in their criticism. British professor Steve Heder, who is one of the world’s foremost experts on the Khmer Rouge regime, has been outspoken in his condemnation of the entire process.

“There cannot be real justice if the process is compromised, which according to any serious human rights-oriented analysis, it is,” Heder wrote in an e-mail late last month. “The objective of the process, as currently designed, is neither truth nor justice, but to close the domestic and international books on the case in a way that does the least possible political and diplomatic damage to current powerholders.”

Others have been welcoming—however reticent—to the new, and perhaps last, chance to bring justice to Cambodia.

“I see it as an opportunity to work together to bring justice, even though the starting point cannot please everybody,” Documentation Center of Cambodia Executive Director Youk Chhang said.

In a statement issued Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on Annan not to accept a law that “has serious shortcomings from a human rights perspective.”

Cambodia’s trial legislation establishes an international tribunal, with Cambodia’s law superceding those of the international community—which many saw as a flaw considering the country’s weak judiciary.

“The UN must not compromise on basic standards of justice,” a statement from the group said.

Most of the abstentions Thursday were from European Union nations, which was proof to some that the resolution is flawed.

“Countries with traditions in real law aren’t behind this,” one diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The mandate came together at the last minute in November, after Australia gave up leading a committee of 26 “interested states” trying to bring the two sides back together.

 

 

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