Blame it on the spate of Hollywood productions that have set the town abuzz in recent
months, providing everything from tantalizing glimpses of sexpot Angelina Jolie to
rare well-paid employment for the local slacker expat set in Matt Dillon's Beneath
the Banyan Trees.
Hurry up and wait? Hun Sen on April 25 pledges "justice" for KR victims.
On April 25, Prime Minister Hun Sen solemnly spoke in defense of preserving the skulls
and bones salted around the country's scores of killing fields as a necessary evil
in "finding justice" for the estimated 1.7 million victims of the Khmer
For those happily uninformed about the fractious progress toward the establishment
of a tribunal to bring those responsible for those deaths to justice, Hun Sen's evocation
of those piles of bleached skulls at Choeng Ek and Toul Sleng was a moving testimony
to the man's commitment to addressing the sins of his country's past.
But for those who have followed the process more closely, the Prime Minister's speech
was but another attempt - theatrical, complete with props - to diffuse and confuse
While Hun Sen's vow to submit the fate of the bones to a national referendum following
a KR tribunal's completion would suggest his strong personal support for the process,
events over the last two months have been a damning testimony to government foot
dragging and intransigence that make the prospect of an effective tribunal ever more
That foot dragging became outright obstructive in February, when the Constitutional
Council froze the bill's process due to objections about its references to the death
penalty, forbidden under Cambodian law. The Council duly forwarded the draft law
to the Council of Jurists (COJ) to delete Article 3 of the bill's references to the
1956 criminal code, which decrees capital punishment for homicide, torture and religious
The Constitutional Council's ruling was at the time criticized even by the National
Assembly's Legislative Commission Chairman Monh Saphan, who pointed out that the
Constitutional Council's objections were spurious in light of the bill's Article
38, which specifically disallows the use of the death penalty.
Even more curious was the timing of the Constitutional Council's announcement - less
than two days prior to the King's departure for routine medical treatment in Beijing.
While government spokesmen insisted that Chea Sim as acting Head of State could sign
a finalized KR bill into law if the King was unavailable, recognition that the King's
moral authority was esential for approval of the law among the Cambodian public effectively
delayed the law's progress until his return in April
But the surprise this month had nothing to do with rumors back in February that the
King would in any case refuse to sign off on the bill to either cock a snook at Hun
Sen or at the behest of his Chinese patrons, but rather that after two months the
Council of Jurists have yet to delete the offending passages and refuses to say when
they will do so.
While bureaucratic indolence is not unknown in Cambodia, the failure of the COJ to
act swiftly in light of the importance of the task assigned them suggests that it
has either not been encouraged to prioritize the revision of the draft law, or has
been prevailed upon to delay action as long as possible.
Such suspicions are not ungrounded in light of past efforts by Hun Sen to complicate
the tribunal process.
Previous pretexts vehemently articulated by the Prime Minister to limit international
influence in the tribunal process or narrow its scope to the point of futility -
ie arguing that former Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary should not be subject
to prosecution - have all quickly and expeditiously been given the lie.
The Prime Minister's assertions last autumn that a tribunal would send former KR
cadre back to the forests to restart the country's three decade civil war took many
by surprise, including residents of the former KR strongholds of Anglong Veng and
Pailin, who in various recent forums have expressed growing support for the formation
of a tribunal to answer their own questions about events between 1975-1979.
Similarly, the Prime Minister's warnings that his avowed support for a tribunal
was threatened by restive former KR dissidents within CPP ranks were proven equally
hollow by the unanimous vote of support for the draft law bill in the National Assembly
on Jan 3.
The behavior of coalition partner Funcinpec has been equally suspect with regards
to illustrating its commitment to a tribunal.
While Funcinpec officials such as NA Legislative Commission member Klok Buddhi
insisted back in February that the requested Constitutional Council revisions to
the draft law could "...easily be certified as an urgent matter" requiring
only three days notice to gather a quorum of legislators to debate and approve, National
Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh apparently had more pressing matters
The prince instead went on holiday in France, delaying the scheduled April 18 commencement
of the National Assembly session for "medical reasons".
More gallingly, the Prince has not yet seen fit to put the yet-to-be amended bill
on the NA schedule of draft laws for consideration.
Instead, the NA has announced that the National Assembly will focus instead on investment-related
bills, items not normally perceived as the most pressing of priorities for the 1.7
million victims of the Khmer Rouge and their survivors.
While such marginalizing of the draft law might gratify long-time KR supporter China,
which funded the reconstruction of the National Assembly and sent an official observer
to Funcinpec's annual congress in March, it is highly doubtful whether it represents
the will of the Cambodian people.
Meanwhile, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party further muddied the waters by leader Sam
Rainsy's March 6 request that the US refuse to fund a trial that he and his fellow
SRP legislators unanimously voted in support of on Jan 3.
An indication of the public distaste for the handling of the KR tribunal process
and their recognition of its true intentions is a shift in speculation from "if"
elderly former KR military chief Ta Mok will die in prison, to a matter of "when".
On July 7, 2000 , following an agreement between the UN and the Cambodian government
on the substance of the KR draft law a beaming Sok An assured UN Chief Legal Counsel
Hans Corell that the bill could be passed by the NA "within weeks".
Corell, perhaps prescient of the coming nine months of flip-flops, delays and obstinacy
that would undermine Sok An's spoken commitment, in turn warned that UN patience
with Cambodia's slow progress toward formation of a tribunal was not limitless.
It can only be hoped that as the one-year anniversary of the UN-Cambodian agreement
nears, the UN's mute assent to the Cambodian government's slow progress in rendering
true justice to those piles of skulls might finally come to an end.