A team of UN negotiators for a tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders will come to Cambodia in two weeks to pick up the talks that had been stalled for more than a year, UN and Cambodian officials said on Wednesday.
The UN delegation, led by Legal Counsel Hans Corell, will spend March 13 to March 17 in Phnom Penh, Minister of Cabinet Sok An said Wednesday at Phnom Penh International Airport upon his return from the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Kuala Lumpur. A UN statement confirmed the same dates.
Corell last visited Phnom Penh for Khmer Rouge tribunal talks in July 2000.
In calling on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resume the negotiations, the UN General Assembly gave Annan a deadline of March 18 to report on the talks’ progress.
The two sides last met in January in New York for discussions that were characterized as “exploratory” rather than substantive. Sok An indicated Wednesday that next month’s negotiations will focus on the central issues at stake.
“We will talk about the draft of the agreement between the [Cambodian] government and the UN,” Sok An said, without specifying which issues would be singled out.
“This is the last chance for both [sides] to show that they are serious about finding justice for the victims of the Khmer Rouge,” Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said on Wednesday.
Next month’s summit will be the 11th time over five and a half years that the two sides have met face to face and attempted to wrangle an agreement for a first-of-its-kind war crimes trial of mixed national and international composition, Sok An noted.
It was in 1997 that then-co-premiers Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh first asked the UN for help setting up a tribunal. After years of correspondence and meetings between the two sides, Cambodia’s National Assembly passed a law in January 2001 providing for a special court, called the “Extraordinary Chambers,” to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.
The idea was that the Cambodian law would govern the workings of the court—which would be presided over by both Cambodian and foreign judges—while another document, an agreement between Cambodia and the UN known as the “Articles of Cooperation,” would outline the UN’s role in the proceedings.
Corell’s team insisted that the UN agreement supersede the Cambodian law if the two were to conflict. Sok An’s team, on the other hand, saw the two documents as complementary; therefore there was no need for one to have precedence over the other.
“While the Articles of Cooperation may clarify certain nuances in the Law, and elaborate certain details, it is not possible for them to modify, let alone prevail over, a law that has just been promulgated,” Sok An wrote to Corell in November 2001.
The situation came to a head on Feb 8, 2002, when Annan announced that the UN was pulling out of the trial process for good.
Explaining the decision at the UN on that day, Corell blamed the Cambodian government for passing a flawed piece of legislation and then refusing to allow international standards to overrule it.
“The United Nations has concluded that the proceedings of the Extraordinary Chambers would not guarantee the international standards of justice required for the United Nations to continue to work towards their establishment and have decided, with regret, to end its participation in this process,” Corell said at the time.
Neither Cambodia nor any UN member states had any advance warning of the UN’s sudden pullout, and an international outcry was immediately raised. Throughout 2002, several nations lobbied the UN to restart the talks.
On Dec 19, a resolution co-sponsored by France and Japan passed the UN General Assembly. It ordered Annan to return to the negotiating table “without delay.”
The resolution passed by a vote of 150 to 0, but 30 nations, including Australia and the US, abstained. These countries, along with human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, said the resolution gave the Cambodian government too much leeway and would not ensure a fair trial free of political influence.
“Justice is not served by diluting international standards to suit the occasion or a government in power,” Amnesty International said.
Meanwhile, the former leaders of the genocidal regime that caused the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 continue to age, many peacefully.
Only Khmer Rouge military commander Ta Mok, 77, and Kaing Khek Iev, alias Duch, 60, who ran the notorious Tuol Sleng prison and torture chamber, have been detained on war crimes charges. They have been jailed pending trial for more than three years.
On the other hand, Khmer Rouge Brother No 2 Nuon Chea, 76, and premier Khieu Samphan, 72, live peacefully in Pailin, and several more minor figures, also aging, live freely throughout Cambodia.
Last month marked 24 years since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge. The exploratory negotiations in New York were reported to have gone well, although few details were given.
Youk Chhang on Wednesday said the process toward a trial has dragged on too long, to the detriment of the Cambodian people, whose trauma remains unresolved.
“By stalling the negotiations, they are only serving the perpetrators of the genocide,” Youk Chhang said.