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Past Post: Political will is key to Khmer Rouge trial

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THIS WEEK IN HISTORY

Vol. 8, No. 17

20 August to 2 September 1999

THE United Nations draft proposal for a trial, with international involvement, for the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge has achieved a unity rarely seen in Cambodia: everybody hates it.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has dismissed the proposal for what he says is a subversion of Cambodia's sovereignty.

Rights workers and legal experts have been appalled at a number of areas, including the softening of the stance by the United Nations that recommended by a team of legal experts led by Sir Ninian Stevens who visited last year, and the lack of an appeals process.

Their recommendation was for a full-scale UN-funded trial outside Cambodia's territory.

The latest proposal to come out of the United Nations Office of Legal Affairs is a considerable step away from that recommended and is based on a joint Cambodian/International tribunal. But even with that amelioration there seems little chance that the UN and the Cambodian government are going to find agreement.

A government spokesman said that the UN is going to have to give some more ground if it wants to be involved.

"The UN will have to compromise even more," they said.

"The two major obstacles in the proposal are the appointment of the judges and the appointment of the prosecutor. I don't see any way that the Cambodian government can accept a majority of non-Cambodian judges or a non-Cambodian prosecutor," they said.

But KR researcher and academic Steve Heder said he believed that the UN had already given too much ground.

"We have seen a retrogression. The UN is increasingly making concessions to accommodate Hun Sen and the Chinese," he said.

And if the compromises go to far, he said, then the trial will not achieve some of its main aims.

"I seriously question whether the proposed tribunal could have the educational and moral effect that it claims it will. The Cambodians will spot right away if there is something in it that doesn't provide justice," he said.

And if further compromises are made, Heder said, "It may end up as the perfect example of how not to do an international genocide trial."

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