Aproposal to move the Khmer Rouge tribunal to an army base outside Phnom Penh
has sparked fears a military presence will intimidate witnesses and scare away
Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that the theater complex at the High Command Headquarters, pictured, would be a better venue for the KR Tribunal.
The new venue, The High Command Headquarters of the Royal
Cambodian Armed Forces, is situated just before the toll gates on National Road
4, about 16.5 kms from the city, and its accessibility has also raised
Chaktomuk Theatre and the National Cultural Centre in central
Phnom Penh were the original venues chosen to hold the tribunal and its
Kek Galabru, president of local human rights group Licadho, said
it would be difficult for witnesses and family members of the victims to feel
safe attending a trial where military personnel may be present, and this could
discourage them from testifying.
"People feel safer at a theater in the
city. I would like to go, but I would be scared out there, too," Galabru said.
"You take off a lot of opportunity to get the truth.
... Cambodians are so
afraid of the military police, or soldiers, because they aren't there to protect
The extra distance would also cost people more money and take more
time to reach, she said.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a
coalition of 18 local organizations, would make a statement airing their
concerns if the new venue was confirmed, Galabru said.
Kong Kimsenn, 53,
a Sam Rainsy Party activist, said she would prefer the tribunal be held at
Chaktomuk. "It is closer to my home, and it is safer," she said. "If the
military police want to stop people for some reason, nobody would know about it
Not everyone agrees. Duy Vuthy, 40, a wheel-chair-bound
seller who listens to the radio every day to hear updates on the tribunal's
progress, said if public participation is allowed he would go to either
"If it happens and we are allowed to go, I will go wherever and by
whatever means it takes to see the trial," he said.
Helen Jarvis, an
advisor to the government on the KR trial, said Prime Minister Hun Sen suggested
the venue change after attending the opening of new headquarters in
The headquarters is set on a large block of dusty land
south-west of Pochentong airport on National Highway 4. There are three separate
buildings: the front building is presently used as administration offices of the
RCAF; a large, unoccupied rectangular office block sits to its right; and a
theater complex is at the back.
The theater, which is used for military
meetings, would be used as the KR tribunal courtroom.
Tea Banh, the
Co-minister of National Defence, said there are only office staff there at the
moment and no weapons are stored at the site, but he was unsure if the military
would move out if the tribunal were held there.
Following Hun Sen's
suggestion, a technical team made of United Nations and local experts analysed
the site in December. In January, Philip Mitnick, a facilities expert from the
International Criminal Tribunal of the Former Yugoslavia, also came to inspect
and approve the site.
The proposal now awaits approval from the UN in New
Jarvis expects that many Cambodians will probably rely on radio and
television to follow the proceedings and said the new headquarters would be
better equipped to support a large media presence.
advantages included the fact that the court and offices would be on a single
site, computers could be more easily networked and enough offices already exist
at the headquarters, saving an estimated $1 million in renovations that were
needed for Chaktomuk, according to Jarvis.
She said security would also
be stronger with the absence of other buildings nearby, and Phnom Penh could
retain use of its cultural centres and avoid disruption to city traffic for the
expected three-year duration of the trial.
Youk Chhang, director of the
Documentation Centre of Cambodia, agreed that the location is technically more
suitable for the tribunal but said the military presence must be
"People are afraid of men in uniform. It's threatening," Youk
said. "There should be no military uniforms in the court room, but all of this
can be regulated."
"I think the military would be very, very careful," he
Youk said he has suggested that the tribunal taskforce organize a
tour to the venue, inviting NGOs, ambassadors, media, military staff and others
to visit, and then have open discussions about their concerns or
"This should be done before it is finalized, [so] people can
have input. And then before you move forward, those doubts can be erased or
changes implemented," he said.
In response, Sean Visoth, the executive
secretary to the tribunal taskforce, said he would like to organize a tour of
the venue and would work out an appropriate date after discussing the details
with the military command.