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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - KR tribunal secrecy denounced

KR tribunal secrecy denounced

LEADERS of civil society have castigated the Government and the United Nations for

keeping details of their agreement on a proposed Khmer Rouge tribunal secret, saying

it blocks necessary public debate and is a bad lesson in democracy.

"It is part of the democratic mechanisms that the public be allowed to participate

in the legislative process," said Dr Lao Mong Hay, Executive Director of the

Khmer Institute for Democracy.

"We've been preached upon by various international institutions to be transparent,

but yet they want to hide this [KR tribunal agreement] from us. We need to get the

Government and the UN to reveal to the public what they agreed upon. This tribunal

is for the victims of the KR regime. They want to know and need to know how it is

set up."

After months of negotiations, UN Undersecretary-General Hans Corell and the head

of the Government's tribunal task force, the Minister of the Council of Ministers,

Sok An, agreed in July on the composition of a future tribunal to try former KR leaders.

They drew up a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) outlining the contents of the tribunal

agreement and a list of changes to the Government's tribunal draft law from January.

However, the two documents have since been kept so secret that not even the Legislative

Commission of the National Assembly has been allowed to see them. Currently, the

Commission is formally reviewing the draft law and preparing it for debate in the

Assembly, but the Commission members say they cannot continue their work on the law

without knowing the contents of the agreement.

Mong Hay is member of an informal working group, including a number of NGOs and politicians

who recently agreed to start lobbying for a KR tribunal. Among the working group's

first actions will be a letter with an appeal to the UN and the Government, asking

them to reveal the MoU and the draft law changes.

The Acting Director of the human rights group Licadho, Naly Pilorge, agrees that

the establishment of a KR tribunal should be accessible to the public.

"It is very essential that the public is allowed to participate throughout the

whole process. This is the concern of all Cambodians and should be the topic of public

hearings, debates and on radio and TV as well. Otherwise we risk that the tribunal

becomes politicized and that it will not serve the interest of the people,"

Pilorge says.

Earlier this year, the Center for Social Development (CSD) organized three public

forums in Battambang, Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville, where participants from all walks

of life were invited to freely discuss the issue of "National reconciliation

and the KR".

CSD President Chea Vannath says the three events showed clearly that the Cambodian

public takes a big interest in the subject.

"At the Phnom Penh forum, several participants urged CSD to organize a similar

public forum at the Olympic Stadium where 1,000 people or more could be allowed to

join in the debate," Vannath says.

She says a KR tribunal is only part of the process of healing the nation from KR-inflicted

wounds and that real national reconciliation has to start with talking, counseling

and discussion.

"There is still a lot of hatred among people. We need to promote the democratic

process to avoid bloodshed. Without that process there is no real peace and no real

reconciliation. A public debate will loosen up the tightness and the emotions surrounding

the KR, and the government is loosing out by not allowing that debate," Vannath

says.

Dissatisfaction with the lack of public participation in the tribunal debate is also

beginning to show among politicians.

"If Cambodia is a democracy then people should know what their political leaders

have decided," says Funcinpec Senator Kem Sokha.

"The KR did not only kill the families of the Government. This is about the

life and suffering of all Cambodians."

Sokha fears that a tribunal which is pushed through without sufficient debate will

get negative reactions from the public.

"The big problem is the consequences - what will happen afterwards. If people

don't feel satisfied with the tribunal and the way it was set up, they will only

demand to have a new one. I have my personal opinion about the tribunal, but as a

Senator I have to learn from the public what they want and decide on the basis of

that."

Recently Prime Minster Hun Sen reiterated his stance that the Government had completed

its work with the tribunal draft law and that the matter was now in the hands of

the National Assembly. But at Post press time no plans had been made for Sok An to

meet and brief the Legislative Commission about the agreement with the UN.

"If the Minister fails to come to the parliament and inform them fully about

the agreement, then it is an insult to the National Assembly - an insult to the Nation,"

Mong Hay says.

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