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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - PM moots possibility of foreign judges in KR trial

PM moots possibility of foreign judges in KR trial

samay.jpg
samay.jpg

BENSON SAMAY: "I feel a lot of responsibility"

IN an apparent reversal of position, Prime Minister Hun Sen has agreed to international

participation in a trial of captured Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok.

Calling the premier's stance "a new wrinkle ... substantive and very important,"

US Senator John Kerry said Hun Sen agreed to allow foreign prosecutorial and judicial

staff to take part in the forthcoming trial.

"He was definitely amenable to international prosecutors and judges," said

Kerry after an Apr 7 meeting in Phnom Penh.

If those foreign judges and prosecutors would be empowered to act as such, rather

than just advisers, Hun Sen would have backtracked on his previous position, spelled

out to UN rights envoy Thomas Hammarberg.

"The Prime Minister said during our meeting 25 March that the local prosecutor

would be free to invite foreign advisers to the court. However, no foreigner could

take the role of a judge or a prosecutor," Hammarberg told the Post by email

Apr 11. "I have got no direct message from the Government since then that anything

has changed."

Sum Mean, advisor to the Prime Minister, said that Hun Sen had not changed his mind,

but had merely expanded on a previous theme.

"Read the letter the Prime Minister sent to [UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan

on 24 March - he said then that he welcomed foreigners, and he has now given more

details of this process," said Mean.

Senator Kerry added that Hun Sen had been "more rapidly forthcoming" than

he expected.

"He expressed a willingness to try more than just Ta Mok . . . he expressed

a willingness to embrace legitimacy."

Many speculate it was threats of US aid cuts that made Hun Sen reconsider his stance.

Proponents of an international trial, including Hammarberg and the US, have long

insisted that only an international proceeding can guarantee justice for KR defendants,

due to the lack of independence in Cambodia's courts and the politically-charged

environment.

In a Feb 18 report, a UN team of legal experts examined different possibilities for

KR trials. They rejected the idea of an all-Cambodian trial, calling it "unlikely

to meet the minimal standards of justice".

They also discussed a mixed tribunal - in Cambodia, under Cambodian law, but under

UN administration - which would raise similar issues to the type of trial being considered.

While calling the mixed trial "certainly preferable" to a Cambodian one,

the experts worried that negotiation and legislation of an agreement to set up the

trial "could drag on" and that the RCG "might insist on provisions

that might undermine the independence of the court".

They did not recommend the UN get involved in such a proceeding for fear that it

would take too long and/or "make the United Nations party to a process not meting

out impartial justice".

However, Sum Mean said that Hun Sen was keen to get proceedings underway soon.

"The Prime Minister wants the trial quickly," he said.

In the meantime, Cambodian lawyer Benson Samay announced last week that he had been

appointed to represent Ta Mok in the forthcoming trial.

Samay, who lost his wife and children during the KR regime, said it was a challenge

to get a fair trial for the KR leader, but that he would fight for the truth to come

out.

"I don't know if Ta Mok will win or lose," he said, "but I'm going

to fight for a fair trial."

Samay met Ta Mok 8 April for the first time, but said that they did not discuss the

case at all.

"When you meet your client for the first time, you build a relationship with

them, you don't talk about the case, you get to know them."

But he admitted that it would be a difficult case for him to handle.

"My family were killed in the KR regime but I try to forget. . . my friend told

me, 'you have to put your family in the back of your head and look for the truth,'"

he said.

"I feel a lot of responsibility."

Court officials have not yet set a trial date, although Samay says he expects a preliminary

hearing soon after the New Year.

Charges have not yet been announced either, as the investigation is ongoing. Military

Court Chief Ney Thol said: "I cannot say what [the charges] will be - you should

know."

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