Just hours before the UN announced its decision to pull out of the Khmer Rouge tribunals, the UN human rights office in Cambodia moved one step closer to settling its dispute with the government over the future status of the UN office here.
On Friday, Margot Picken, local director of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Hun Saphuon, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, initialed the text of the memorandum of understanding between the UNHCHR and the government.
Initialing the text allows for the actual memorandum to be signed by Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson. UNHCHR spokeswoman Francesca Marotta declined comment on whether Friday’s meeting was connected to the UN’s decision not to participate in the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Another UNHCHR official said, “It was purely coincidental.”
“We came to know about [UN legal counsel] Hans Corell and [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan’s decision after we agreed to the text of the memorandum of understanding,” said the UN official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Chann Rotana, deputy director of the international organization department for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the ministry has not received a copy of the memorandum of understanding and could not comment on when Hor Namhong will sign it.
The memorandum, in limbo since February 2000, allows the UNHCHR to operate in Cambodia. The government has refused to sign it. One sticking point has been resistance to giving government employees participating in UNHCHR programs immunity from censorship when discussing sensitive matters with UN officials. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Hun Sen said Monday the government will seek a draft law to extend the detention deadline for Ta Mok and Kang Kek Ieu—also known as Duch. They are the only Khmer Rouge suspects in detention and have been held for almost three years.
Benson Samay, attorney for Ta Mok, and Kar Savuth, attorney for Duch both said Monday they will abide by the law, though Benson Samay said he probably still will ask for Ta Mok’s release.
Also on Monday, a Chinese Embassy official questioned the UN’s decision, but stopped short of criticizing it.
When asked what effect any Khmer Rouge tribunal might have on China, the official said: “The environment for business is better when there is peace and stability in Cambodia.” He would not elaborate.