Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Courting controversy: Cambodia and the ICC

Courting controversy: Cambodia and the ICC

Courting controversy: Cambodia and the ICC

Despite Cambodia's inability to agree to terms with the UN for its own genocide tribunal,

a Cambodian judge will be nominated to serve on the International Criminal Court

(ICC), the first permanent court set up to try cases of genocide, crimes against

humanity and war crimes.

The pledge came during Prime Minister Hun Sen's opening speech to the two-day conference

in Phnom Penh on the ICC.

"Cambodia is ready to send its judges as candidates of the International Criminal

Court and expects support from all the member states for this initiative," he

told the conference on October 9.

Reference to Cambodia's own long-delayed plans for a Khmer Rouge genocide trial was

conspicuously absent from the Prime Minister's remarks.

But as one of only ten Asian countries to have ratified the Rome Statute, which establishes

the court, Cambodia was hailed for taking the initiative in the region.

As the treaty aims at equal geographical representation, and relatively few countries

in the area have signed up to it, that improves the chances of a Cambodian nominee

becoming one of the ICC's panel of 18 judges.

"The Cambodian judge would have a relatively good chance," said Darryl

Robinson from Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, a legal officer helping

to establish the court.

He said that a judge on the ICC's bench would need to meet a set of rigorous standards,

including experience in trying national or international criminal cases, the ability

to hold the highest judicial offices in his or her home country, and fluency in English

or French.

However government officials would not say which judge might be nominated for election

to the ICC. And some observers questioned whether the country's judiciary, which

is regularly criticized for incompetence and corruption, was up to the task.

Democracy advocate Dr Lao Mong Hay said he doubted any of the country's judges could

ably serve the ICC.

"To my knowledge none of the judges have been sent abroad for training in international

law or criminal court proceedings," said Mong Hay. "I don't know who that

judge on the Supreme Court or Appeal Court [who would be nominated for ICC election]

might be."

Another reason to doubt the competence of the Cambodian judiciary, he said, was that

the government itself had admitted it was not qualified to try senior Khmer Rouge

cadres for genocide and crimes against humanity.

However, Ang Vong Vathana, secretary of state at the Ministry of Justice, said the

government was willing to help crack down on the world's worst human rights violators.

"Thanks to the efforts made by the Royal Government of Cambodia regarding the

judicial sector we now have experienced magistrates who could be of tremendous use

in the ICC, especially if cases from the Asian region are brought before the court,"

Vathana said.

The incongruity of holding an ICC conference in a country where former leaders accused

of genocide still walk free was not lost on organizers. The schedule included a trip

to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, and many participants addressed the stalled KR

tribunal negotiations.

One delegate told the Post that although the conference was held in Cambodia to acknowledge

its leadership in Asia on the ICC, it was hoped there would be a "spill-over

effect" leading to justice for those who suffered under the KR.

And Gianfranco Dell'Alba, an Italian member of the European Parliament, who also

serves as secretary-general of the NGO No Peace Without Justice, appealed to the

international community and the government to reach agreement.

"[The time has come] here to end impunity for the most heinous crimes. Victims

cannot wait any longer," he said.

Western ambassadors also referred to the stalled tribunal talks. French ambassador

Andre-Jean Libourel called for a resumption, while Canadian ambassador Stefanie Beck

noted that Cambodians had "first-hand experience" of the suffering caused

by impunity and injustice.

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