In response to the Comment by Tony Kevin, "Rainsy and rights groups stymie KR
trial" published in the November 12 Phnom Penh Post, Human Rights Watch would
like to make clear that our position on any Khmer Rouge tribunal has consistently
been that it must meet international standards.
We agree with the assessment in 1997 of Prime Minister Hun Sen, who, in a letter
he wrote jointly with then co-Prime Minister Norodom Ranariddh requesting U.N. assistance
to organize a tribunal, stated that "Cambodia does not have the resources or
expertise to conduct this very important procedure."
We concur with Cambodia's three leading legal aid organizations, who have called
for an international tribunal and questioned the impartiality of the Cambodian judiciary,
especially in the politically-charged atmosphere surrounding a tribunal.
Even with international assistance, the Cambodian judiciary is not yet capable of
offering the fairness and transparency necessary to conduct trials of this sensitivity
The Cambodian government has insisted that trials be held within the Cambodian court
system, with a majority of Cambodian judges. Legal experts sent to Cambodia by the
U.N. proposed a structure for trying the Khmer Rouge that would both meet international
standards and allow for Cambodian participation.
We do not believe that organizing a tribunal under U.N. control constitutes a "humiliating
acceptance that the Cambodian state was too incompetent and corrupt to exert its
sovereign rights," but rather the minimum step necessary to meet international
In our October 22 statement, Human Rights Watch welcomed recent reports that Hun
Sen might be ready to resume discussions about a tribunal with international participation,
although we urged once again that any discussion be based on international principles
and standards. As of this writing we have not seen any details of what has been termed
a compromise initiative by the United States.
In the meantime, we will continue to urge that all parties - the Cambodian government,
the United Nations, and international partners - insist on fully respecting international
standards for trying those accused of crimes against humanity and genocide.
These are crimes of universal jurisdiction, and while sovereign nations have the
first duty to pursue justice, the international community has a legitimate interest
to intervene when fair trials cannot be assured or when justice will be incomplete.
Cambodia, and Cambodians, deserve no less.
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director, Human Rights Watch