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
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]
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,"
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
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.