The UN's Ralph Zacklin, right, draws a line in the sand on the Khmer Rouge trial issue at an Aug 31 press conference, while aides Jonathan Prentice and Daphna Shraga provide back-up.
HE QUESTION of the makeup of the panel of judges is the only remaining major obstacle
to agreement with the United Nations on a mixed tribunal for former Khmer Rouge leaders
according to a Government spokesman.
Spokesman Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that the Government was now in agreement
with the UN on all major points except whether there would be a majority of international
or local judges on the tribunal.
His comments follow a week long visit by a UN team headed by UN Assistant Secretary-General
for Legal Affairs Ralph Zacklin which presented a proposal for a mixed tribunal.
Initially there seems to have been little common ground between the two sides with
the UN proposing an adhoc tribunal outside the Cambodian legal framework with no
right of appeal and the Government pushing of a trial within the existing Judicial
system but with international involvement.
The UN proposed a majority of international judges on the panel whereas the Government
wanted a majority of Cambodian judges.
But Kanharith insists that an agreement can be reached
"The two sides are not really far apart," he said.
"We agree on most of the points, the main difference is the majority of judges."
Hun Sen left Phnom Penh on Sep 1 for the United Nations in New York where he is scheduled
to meet with the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.
Kanharith said he expected that meeting would yield results.
"Ralph Zacklin did not have the authority to make a decision, when the two decision
makers meet [Hun Sen and Kofi Annan] maybe they will find a way," he said.
Kanharith would not comment on what compromises had been made by the Government or
expected from the UN other than to say that: "Cambodians know how to find their
way out of a situation but we do not know about the other side."
Kanharith's comments are the first indication that an agreement might be possible
on the matter of a tribunal,
Zacklin took a hard line approach at a press conference on Aug 31 saying that there
were "conceptual differences" over the international nature of the tribunal.
He said that if the Cambodian Government did not agree to a tribunal that met adequate
standards for impartiality and fairness the UN would not participate.
But for some groups even the UN proposal as it stands is already compromised.
Human Rights Watch, said that the current plan did not meet minimum international
benchmarks to ensure a legitimate and credible process and pointed to a UN committee
of experts report released earlier this year that recommended the establishment of
an international tribunal outside of Cambodia.
"The United Nations must avoid giving legitimacy to a process that does not
meet international standards," said Sidney Jones, Executive Director of the
Asia Division of Human Rights Watch.
"The UN. and key donors should withhold political and financial support if these
standards are not met."
She added that the Cambodian government had a history of manipulating the judiciary
and disregarding the rule of law.
Meanwhile Pailin Governor and former Khmer Rouge Y Chhien added more ingredients
to the tribunal melting pot this week in Phnom Penh when he and 35 former KR top
brass arrived to discuss their position with the UN team.
The KR delegation met at the Cambodiana on Sunday Aug 29. Most were in RCAF uniforms
though some were in civvies. A KR source said all of those present were extremely
worried about their own positions.
Among them were General Ing Leang, 46, now commander of division 24 at Praeng Prasat
near Anlong Veng; General Pen Voy, commander of division 15 in Chup Koky near the
Thai border; General Yim Pin, 50, commander of division 23 in Anlong Veng.
Ironically most of them have little to worry about - the majority attending
the meeting were too young to have held positions of responsibility in the 1975-79
But some of those attending would have cause for worry. Former zone commander Ke
Pauk would be near the top of any list of likely indictees as would Mea Muth who
as head of the navy was responsible for the abduction of a group of foreigners from
a yacht in 1976 who later died in Tuol Sleng.
At a press conference on 31 Aug Y Chhien said he supported the Government's position
on a majority of Cambodian judges at any future tribunal
"About the trial, I myself and the whole KR defectors are standing with national
judges, because we understand the long-term chronic wars, which caused disaster,
tragedy and hunger to the Cambodian people, was not solved by anyone but only Khmer
people and the government policy."
He noted that he would not block any efforts to bring the KR leaders to trial, in
stark contrast to previous warnings that bringing a trial to the country might upset
the fragile peace that Cambodia now enjoys.
More dramatic was the spat between Sam Rainsy and Y Chhien himself, which blew up
after Rainsy made comments to reporters August 14 saying that the government wasn't
going to take the important KR leaders to trial because it had made an alliance with
them, and noting that it was a case of 'criminals defending criminals'.
Y Chhien raged at Rainsy's comments, demanding to know which KR he was referring
to, as all former KR except Ta Mok had defected to the government, and saying that
"We should not let a politician snatch a chance to ferment troubles which can
infringe on the national security".
The Pailin governor accused Rainsy of trying to incite divisions where there were
none, and issued a statement Aug 26 requesting the King, the senate and the national
assembly to "find justice for us as well as other defection areas."
And in a bizarre twist, rumors were rife in Phnom Penh this week that the governor
and other KR defectors were planning a demonstration through Phnom Penh against Sam
"Yes, I heard about this," said Phi Thach, Chief of Sam Rainsy's cabinet.
"But I am also very concerned about the threats which were made against Rainsy
at Y Chhien's press conference [27 Aug] which seemed to threaten that Rainsy would
According to the SRP, Sok Pheap declared at the press conference, "Sam Rainsy
must be careful: he can be gunned down," he said.