THIS WEEK IN HISTORY
Vol. 7, No. 23
16-29 October, 1998
first concrete step towards possible accountability for Khmer Rouge
leaders will be taken in November, with the arrival of three
international law experts under the auspices of the United Nations.
Led by Australian jurist Sir Ninian Stephen, the commission will arrive
on November 14 for at least a week's work. Its mandate is to "evaluate
the existing evidence [against KR leaders] and propose further
measures", according to the General Assembly resolution of November 26,
According to the Assembly's recommendation, the experts will examine
evidence pertaining only to the KR period of 1975-79, and only to the
top leaders. This mandate would likely exclude investigation of current
government leaders such as Prime Minister-elect Hun Sen who were
lower-ranking members of the Khmer Rouge, or of acts committed after
January 7, 1979.
The UN action is unrelated to the United States
House of Representatives' Resolution 533, which is merely a domestic,
non- binding resolution calling for an "international judicial
tribunal" for Hun Sen and his associates.
US Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, who sponsored Resolution 533, said on
the House floor: "We must not permit legislative action in Cambodia...
to focus exclusively on a handful of geriatric Khmer Rouge leaders,"
according to the Congressional Record.
However, UN rights envoy for Cambodia Thomas Hammarberg has called the
UN action a "breakthrough". He was the force driving the world body to
at last take action on the Khmer Rouge question 19 years after the
regime's overthrow. The Assembly resolution, which condemns the crimes
of the KR for the first time, was passed in response to Hammarberg's
1997 report to the Assembly.
The Royal Government of Cambodia has also repeatedly expressed its
support for such an undertaking; in June 1997 the two Prime Ministers
[Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh] wrote to the UN asking for assistance
in bringing the KR to justice.
The commission convened in New York in September, meeting with
Secretary-General Kofi Annan, other UN officials and key diplomats,
Hammarberg said by email. He plans to arrive in Cambodia October 23,
and his visit will overlap with that of the experts.
During their visit, the commission will examine Khmer Rouge-era
archives at the Documentation Center of Cambodia and the former Tuol
Sleng prison, and meet with government officials.