WHEN Prime Minister Hun Sen flew to New York on September 4 to take part in the United
Nations General Assembly's Millennium Summit, he took with him a small gift to the
Three days before the Prime Minister's departure, the Minister of the Council of
Ministers, Sok An, had finally met with the National Assembly's Legislative Commission
to present the draft law on a tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.
So when Hun Sen arrived in New York, he could rightfully tell secretary-general Kofi
Annan and any other world leader who cared to ask that the process to set up the
tribunal was moving along.
But it was only a small move forward. And it had come about in exactly the same way
as any other previous progress to create a KR tribunal: One small step forward, a
long pause, international pressure to continue the process, then another hesitant
step, another delay and more pressure from the outside.
As the international attention of the Millennium Summit dies away, analysts see the
slow progress and the uncertainty surrounding the process as a sign that the very
top echelons of the Cambodian Peoples Party are still opposed to a KR tribunal -
despite repeated reassurances that Cambodia remains committed to a trial.
"It appears that at the top level there is very little inclination to go ahead
with a tribunal," says one long-time observer.
"Karl Marx advised that to understand the true interests of a political party,
don't listen to what they say, but rather watch what they do," said genocide
researcher Craig Etcheson.
"So far, the CPP has done little more than to continually delay and obstruct
the convening of an independent tribunal."
Hun Sen's "gift" to the UN wasn't even what New York had wished for. When
UN Undersecretary -General Hans Corell visited Cambodia in July to hammer out the
last details of a tribunal agreement, he made it clear that he expected to see the
national tribunal legislation approved before the UN General Assembly convened.
It would therefore have been embarrassing for Hun Sen and Sok An to go to New York
without any progress having been made on the tribunal law. Yet Sok An waited more
than two months before he briefed the members of the Legislative Commission about
the contents of the draft law and the new agreement with the UN.
Only on September 1 did the Legislative Commission and Sok An meet. They managed
to review eight of the draft law's 47 articles. Just enough to say that the process
hadn't stalled completely.
That, however, leaves 39 articles to be reviewed before the law is submitted for
debate and approval in the full National Assembly. And Commission Chairman Mohn Sophan
says he doesn't know when work on the law will resume. It depends on the Government
and Sok An, who has to present the draft law to the Commission.
Officially, the Government had washed its hands of any delay in the tribunal process.
After Corell's visit in July, Hun Sen repeatedly stated that the draft law was now
in the hands of the National Assembly and thus no longer the responsibility of the
Government. At the same time, the Legislative Commission couldn't begin to work on
the law until Sok An had briefed it.
"I'm afraid that wool is being pulled over a lot of eyes," says the observer,
who is not the only one to suspect that delaying smoke screens are being laid out
by the CPP.
One reason for the Government's hesitation to move on with the tribunal process is
said to be opposition within the CPP. Party officials have claimed that many CPP
members were ardently against a mixed UN/Cambodian KR tribunal and that the Government
was lobbying hard to win their support.
However, one analyst says that the idea that Hun Sen is holding the fort against
hard-liners within the party is nothing more than a myth:
"My own view is that although there may be a few CPP figures who are profoundly
opposed to international involvement - and one or two may be more opposed than Hun
Sen - the reality is that most of the CPP is more open to the idea than the Prime
Minister is," the analyst says.
Recently Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that CPP members agree to have
a tribunal, and that debate inside the party now concentrates on when to have it.
Some, Kanharith said, wanted to push the tribunal closer to the national elections
in 2003, so it could be used to promote political causes.
That may not be the only reason for some CPP officials' wish to postpone the tribunal.
"I can only surmise that any effort to postpone the tribunal until 2003 would
be nothing more than one element of a serial tactic aimed at delaying the tribunal
until all of the principal suspects have died of natural causes," says Etcheson.
The observer agrees:
- "The tribunal is not a vote-winner for the CPP. It is more likely that the
push for postponement is an effort to gain time to give the KR leadership a chance
to die a natural death."
What also raises concern is that the opposition to the KR tribunal seems to come
from a limited, though very powerful, group of people within the Government, and
that the debate has not spread to a bigger audience.
Funcinpec officials have been remarkably quiet on the issue and only very recently
did Prince Ranariddh state publicly that he thought the tribunal as spelled out in
the UN/Cambodian agreement is acceptable.
Privately many high-ranking Funcinpec members also throw their support behind the
tribunal, but being the junior partner in the coalition government, they fear falling
in disfavor with the stronger CPP.
"If we enter into the discussion about the KR tribunal, it will be meaningless
and will harm the political atmosphere and the relationship between the two government
parties. We don't want to disturb national stability," says one Funcinpec official
who asked not to be named.
Funcinpec's strategy to stay out of the tribunal debate may on the other hand backfire.
If the tribunal falls through, Funcinpec may be blamed for not actively supporting
At the end of the day, the KR tribunal seems to be deeply stuck in the logjam of
national Cambodian politics. Hardly a position from which to uphold the principles
of justice and closure for the millions of victims of the KR regime.
"Both coalition partners show an inclination to use the tribunal issue for their
own political purposes, whether it is Funcinpec's effort to remain an acceptable
coalition partner and not to rock the boat, or CPP's efforts to control the proceedings
of the tribunal," says the observer.
"Although to differing degrees, both are sides of the same coin: The unwillingness
to let justice prevail for justice's sake."