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
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,"
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
"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
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
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.