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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN role in tribunal decisions under fire

UN role in tribunal decisions under fire

ONE year after a UN-Cambodian agreement on a controversial "mixed tribunal" to

prosecute former top leaders of the Khmer Rouge, the status of the tribunal

remains frozen amid contradictory statements by Cambodian officials on the

desirability of the UN's role in the process.

On June 29 Prime Minister

Hun Sen blasted what he termed UN "interference" in the tribunal process and

threatened that Cambodia would go it alone with its own tribunal if the UN would

not co-operate.

The initial agreement was reached a year ago between UN

Chief Legal Counsel Hans Corell and Minister of the Council of Ministers Sok

An.

The Prime Minister's anti-UN stance was backed by National Assembly

President Prince Norodom Ranariddh upon his return to Cambodia on June 30. He

called the tribunal a "Cambodian issue" that didn't require UN

approval.

The Prime Minister's outburst was believed linked to June 27

"clarifications" by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan that the formation of a

tribunal was dependent on the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between

the UN and Cambodia and the successful ratification of the MOU by the National

Assembly.

Annan's remarks were apparently designed to temper

expectations raised by Hun Sen's June 13 announcement that a tribunal could be

up and running by the end of this year.

On July 2 Sok An sought to cool

tempers with assurances that UN co-operation on a tribunal was both needed and

expected and that he would start negotiations on a MOU "immediately" after the

draft law was approved by the National Assembly.

The verbal jousting over

UN involvement in the proposed KR tribunal occurs almost one year after Corell's

last meeting with Sok An on July 7, 2000. At the time Sok An assured Corell that

the National Assembly would move to approve the draft law "within weeks".

One year later, the KR tribunal draft law remains stalled due to a

Constitutional Council objection in February to Article 3 of the law's reference

to the 1956 Cambodian penal code, which mandates the death penalty for crimes

such as murder. Capital punishment is forbidden under the Cambodian punishment.

Although the National Assembly's current session began on April 18, it

is only in the past week that National Assembly President Prince Norodom

Ranariddh confirmed that the draft law would be put on the National Assembly's

agenda.

Monh Saphan, Chairman of NA's Legislative Commission, said

passage of the bill by the assembly would be speedy.

"I think that there

is no need to debate - we just have to make it lawful [by omitting references to

the death penalty]," said Saphan.

But the five-month delay in getting the

draft law to the National Assembly was blasted by Sam Rainsy Party (SRP)

legislator Sam Sundeoun as "unnecessary."

"What we don't understand is

why a matter that took the Council of Ministers about 15 minutes to approve has

taken six months to get done," Sundeoun said.

But comments made in Phnom

Penh on June 27 by Peter Leuprecht, visiting Special Representative to the UN's

Cambodia Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, indicate that the

process to form a KR tribunal will continue to be a magnet for criticism on all

sides.

"If asked to design a tribunal I would not have designed this one,

but we'll have to live with it," Leuprecht said of his opinion of the "mixed

tribunal" formula agreed upon by Cambodia and the UN.

Leuprecht was even

more frank in his appraisal of the capacity of Cambodian judges who will form

the majority on the tribunal panel.

"To be very fair, I believe it will

be much more difficult to find competent and independent Cambodian judges than

competent and independent international judges," he said.

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