The UN’s chief legal counsel, Hans Corell, arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday evening to begin a visit that is expected to seal an agreement between Cambodia and the world body on a long-awaited trial of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders.
Last month the UN General Assembly approved an agreement with Cambodia to establish a genocide tribunal.
The consensus vote of the General Assembly’s 191 members marked the final hurdles in negotiations that began in 1997 but moved at a glacial pace as both Phnom Penh and UN negotiators wrestled over the final make-up of the tribunal.
“The agreement has been approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations so the next step is to sign it,” Corell told reporters upon arrival at Phnom Penh International Airport.
“It has been a long process so far. But I think that now we are in a different setting,” Corell said.
The UN pulled out of trial negotiations in February 2002, but a resolution by its members put the tribunal back on the table this year.
Corell noted that after the agreement is signed today, it must be ratified by the Cambodian National Assembly.
He said, “There are a number of practical things that have to be done, but of course we have to see first what the National Assembly” decides.
The Assembly, however, has been paralyzed in past weeks by a lack of quorum, as the July 27 general elections approach.
Observers say it is unlikely the trial agreement will be debated until the new government is announced in September.
Corell also said issuance of the first Khmer Rouge indictments would be an issue for co-prosecutors to decide.
“It’s far too early. It is the prosecutor who will decide that, or, in this case, the co-prosecutors,” Corell said.
“[The co-prosecutors] would have to get organized first and then decide on a strategy and come to a conclusion on how they will proceed,” he said.