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Gov’t brushes off ICC threat

Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong speaks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh
Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong speaks at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Phnom Penh yesterday. Heng Chivoan

Gov’t brushes off ICC threat

Only two days after the Cambodia National Rescue Party announced it would seek to file a complaint against the government at the International Criminal Court, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong likened the opposition’s efforts to a balloon on a breeze – destined to fall when the wind dies.

The CNRP said on Monday that it had secured the services of international lawyer Richard Rogers to investigate alleged criminal action on the part of the government in its much-maligned crackdown on opposition and garment worker rallies, and to see whether the government’s actions could form the basis for a complaint to the ICC.

Namhong, however, dismissed the investigation and maintained that Cambodians were happy with the government’s restoration of order.

“[The investigation] is like a balloon: when there is wind, it flies, but when there is no wind, it will drop down anywhere, even if it is a dirty place,” Namhong told reporters at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Public opinion in the country has shown that it welcomes the decision of the government to suspend the violent demonstrations,” he added.

At least four people were killed and dozens injured when authorities opened fire on unruly protesters on Veng Sreng Boulevard on Friday, and Rogers yesterday said his investigation would examine murder as a possible charge – along with forcible transfer, illegal imprisonment and persecution.

“We have already started to collect public source documents relating to the violence committed by state security forces against Cambodian civilians,” he said in an email yesterday. “Initially we will consider all the criminal acts committed by security forces since the last national election. We will then move onto the most serious crimes committed by state forces prior to the election.”

Rogers, who has defended clients before the ICC, also cautioned Namhong against doubting the court prosecutor.

“It is too early to tell whether or not the ICC Prosecutor will initiate an investigation,” he said. “But the Foreign Minister should not underestimate the determination of the ICC Prosecutor to address mass human rights violations, even those committed under the authority of sitting governments.”

Cambodian Justice Initiative program officer Panhavuth Long agreed yesterday that it was too early to know whether the effort would succeed, but noted that “the ICC is not an easy place” to lodge a complaint, and that plaintiffs must first exhaust all domestic judicial options.

But Rogers, who has worked in Cambodia – first as the head of the Defense Support Section at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, then in an unsuccessful bid to represent a client in the government-opposed Case 004 – said that attempts to go through domestic channels would likely fail.

“What I learned in my five years working in Cambodia is that there are very good Cambodian judges and prosecutors, but they are prevented from doing their work properly due to the interference from the Cambodian government,” he said.

“Any investigation carried out by Cambodian authorities into the crimes committed by state security forces would not be credible.”

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