Prime Minister Hun Sen in his office, savouring the image of an arrested Ta Mok on local TV
THE government and the United Nations are moving further apart on the issue of a
trial for Khmer Rouge leader Ta Mok - a split that analysts say has more to
do with 1990s power politics than justice for 1970s genocide.
Prime Minister Hun Sen is maintaining his stand that Ta Mok should be tried in Cambodia
by Cambodians while the UN is pushing for an independent international tribunal.
The UN reasserted its stand yesterday with the release of a letter by Secretary-General
Kofi Annan in which he said that a tribunal for KR crimes "must be international
But in the letter he also backed away from some of his UN experts' recommendations
such as the KR tribunal drawing on the resources of the Rwandan and Yugoslav tribunals,
saying "other options may be explored".
Hun Sen has argued that any trial of KR leaders is a Cambodian matter. This is a
view shared by China and Thailand, neither of which would be keen to have their support
of the KR highlighted in an international tribunal.
Hun Sen has also contended that that a local trial would be faster, pointing to the
international community's 20-year delay in even formulating a proposal for a trial.
In an interview in Indonesia broadcast on Mar 17, he reiterated his stand and went
somewhat further by saying that if the Cambodian courts could not reach a decision
on Ta Mok, he would simply detain him as long as he held power.
But while Hun Sen has said he has confidence in the judiciary, it is not a view shared
by the UN and puts in doubt international assistance for the Ta Mok trial.
The UN secretary-general's humans rights representative for Cambodia, Thomas Hammarberg,
said that international involvement in domestic trials - provided they meet acceptable
standards of justice - was still possible, but the capability of Cambodia to hold
a fair trial for Ta Mok was doubtful.
"The international community is not prepared to just pay the bill for a process
which is not up to the standards we require," he said.
Hammarberg, who has been at the forefront of the push for an international tribunal,
admits that he is in the dark about the government's stand on trials in general and
Ta Mok's case in particular.
Calling this a "confused stage", he said he looked forward to talks with
Hun Sen and other members of the government next week. "The ball is in the court
of the government now to make more precise how they think a trial or tribunal can
be organized here."
Meanwhile human rights workers and analysts have said that it was not the competence
of the Cambodian judiciary that Hun Sen was putting his faith in but rather his ability
to control it.
One analyst said: "An international tribunal outside Cambodia was the only path
to follow because of the political and moral subordination of the domestic courts
to Hun Sen and the fear he would try to manipulate the process.
"But this was precisely the reason Hun Sen refused to agree to the proposal.
If Hun Sen wanted a fair, independent legal system, indicting and trying people based
on considerations of justice or politics, he wouldn't have consistently blocked any
substantive judicial reform," he said.
"It goes back to a more fundamental problem. Hammarberg and others saw the KR
issue as important, not only intrinsically, but as the only available means of working
with Hun Sen to indirectly tackle the present problem of impunity.
"The hope was that the example of a fair trial ending the impunity of the worst
perpetrators - who happened to be enemies of the CPP - would have a knock-on effect
and erode the 'culture' of impunity.
"Instead, what we're now having is a resumption - twenty years on - of the trial
of Pol Pot and Ieng Sary with the sole novelty being a live defendant.
"Hun Sen has never publicly accepted there was anything wrong with the 1979
trial (or indeed with the justice system which produced it).
"No doubt he envisages the international 'assistance' to be very similar although
I hope the defence lawyer will this time avoid calling for the death sentence for
Meanwhile there are international political machinations going on as well as the
domestic political games.
Diplomats are currently adopting a wait and see attitude with regard to the Ta Mok
trial and the wider issue of other KR leaders.
While the United Nations and the United States are now pushing for the tribunal,
it has not always been so.
Lecturer at London's School of Oriental and African Studies Steve Heder said that
the call for a trial has been a recent phenomenon.
"Of course, the main international push has come from the US since 1990, when
Congressional pressure (reflecting NGO lobbying) turned administration policy away
from de facto support for PDK toward formal opposition.
"The US wanted something on genocide in the Paris Agreements, but this was vetoed
by Sihanouk, reflecting PDK lobbying.
He said one of the problems of getting support for a trial of those responsible for
the crimes of the DK regime has been that the crimes happened so long ago compared
to Rwanda or Bosnia.
He said that not all countries were as enthusiastic to see justice done as the US
"As for France, obviously, the Quai d'Orsay is much more prepared to accomodate
and ingratiate itself with Hun Sen than the State Department, even to the point of
assisting in the construction of forces of human rights violation (ie, the gendarmarie),
all in the name of maintaining French influence against the 'anglo-saxons'.
"As in Africa, and above all Rwanda and Zaire, France is willing to support
genocidaires and other human rights violators to a point that would be prevented
in the US by domestic lobbies, and so Paris may indeed be just as happy to help Hun
Sen have a "fair trial" as to push for a really fair trial internationally.
"This certainly undercuts the US position. And with China dead set against,
this leaves the US in a difficult position in the Security Council, especially since
the UK doesn't agree that there is a threat to international peace and security in
Cambodia that would justify Security Council use of compulsion to make a trial happen."
Rights groups are also concerned that the trial of Ta Mok could be the last ever
Human Rights Watch executive director Kenneth Roth said he was concerned that Mok
(perhaps with the late Pol Pot) will be scapegoated for the entire range of KR offenses.
"That would be a travesty of justice," he said by email. "They needed
other conspirators at the senior level to carry out crimes of this magnitude. Many
of the other senior officials have been welcomed by Hun Sen when he should be making
arrangements for their prosecution."