THE Council of Ministers yesterday approved the draft law for future trials against
former Khmer Rouge leaders, a major hurdle on the way to setting up a tribunal dealing
with atrocities committed by the Pol Pot regime.
According to Minister for the Council of Ministers, Sok An, the draft law will be
submitted to the National Assembly within the next few days. From there it will go
to the Senate, the Constitutional Council and the King.
The approved draft contains minor changes to the law text that the Council of Ministers
rejected two weeks ago. The tribunal is still structured around foreign/Cambodian
co-prosecution and a majority of Cambodian and a minority of foreign judges who rule
by super majority.
However, the draft no longer states that the tribunal will be financed through a
UN trust fund. According to the new text, Cambodia will pay for any Cambodian judges,
prosecutors and clerks, while foreign donors - governments, NGOs or the UN - are
invited to pay for and send staff to the tribunal after consulting with the Cambodian
It still remains uncertain if and to what extent the UN will be involved in the tribunal,
and it seems they are now faced with a take-it-or-leave-it deal. The world body had
been invited to comment on the previous draft law, but according to Sok An, he only
received a fax from Cambodia's ambassador to the UN ten minutes before the Council
of Ministers meeting ended Jan 6.
"We already gave the UN two weeks to comment on the law, and we will send this
draft to them, too. But the tribunal law is now out of the hands of the Council of
Ministers. Any further changes will have to be made by the National Assembly and
the Senate," Sok An said at a press conference after the meeting.
He had not had time to read the fax from New York and would not reveal the contents
or whether it included an official response from the UN.
During the past two weeks, several countries have put pressure on the UN to respond
to the Cambodian draft law. Others have urged the world body to participate in the
tribunal, even though the law is considered by interested foreign parties to have
a number of weak points that could render Prime Minister Hun Sen in total control
of the process.
"The Cambodian government has already leaned a long way to accommodate the UN
and the inernational community," said one diplomatic source.
"No, the tribunal law won't be perfect. But instead of turning away from the
process, the UN should at least consider supporting a process that has a strong possibility
of success and help make it even better".
"Because the reality is that if the tribunal had to be perfect, it would never
happen, because the Cambodian government would not have accepted it. And this may
be the last chance, before the old KR leaders start dying."