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Sirivudh in the dock, Cambodia on trial

Sirivudh in the dock, Cambodia on trial

T HE leaders of the four Cambodian warring factions made the 23rd of October 1991

an historic moment when they decided in front of the world to drop their violent,

armed struggles for the non-violent, peaceful and civilized way of gaining the exclusive

powers to rule from the Cambodian people through the ballot boxes, and together with

their respective backers and a number of countries concerned over the plight of the

Cambodian people, signed in Paris the Agreements on a Comprehensive Political Settlement

of the Cambodia Conflict. There was then a drastic change of mind and attitude, and

all those leaders deserved much praise for this change which humankind has ceaselessly

been working toward for so long.

However, as this author noted then and wrote later on: "The atmosphere surrounding

the signing of those agreements was hardly one of joy, peace and national reconciliation

as one might have expected at the end of the arduous endeavors for peace. The SNC

[Supreme National Council] members and their respective assistants, especially from

SOC [State of Cambodia] and from the Khmer Rouge, did not reach out to one another

to signal their rapprochement. There was no joint celebration. Perhaps the signing

marked another stage of their war in Cambodia and that they needed to carry on fighting

until their final victory as had been done in the past. A comment in Beijing Review

after the signing of the peace agreements aptly pointed to the efforts required to

ensure their smooth and effective implementation: 'Although the signing of the

Paris peace treaty indicates the ultimate resolution of the Cambodian problem, it

is no easy job to turn the agreements on paper into realities. Continued efforts

by all parties concerned are required to ensure its full implementation.'"

The Khmer Rouge backed down and did not take part in the electoral process under

the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC), and have continued

their war ever since. The UNTAC-organized elections were held regardless in May 1993.

A Constituent Assembly transformed later on into the National Assembly, a Constitution

and a new and legitimate government were born amid an impaired peace. Après

l'orage c'est le beau temps, so it was then expected. Pluralist liberal democracy,

and respect and observance of human rights provided for in the Paris Agreements were

confirmed and enshrined in the country's Constitution of 24 September 1993: Cambodia

was to have the rule of law and be known as a free country.

Indeed freedom and respect for human rights were emerging with vigor in almost all

sections of the Cambodian population, but some remained wary and skeptical and would

rather wait and see before coming to any conclusion either way. In the second year

of the Constitution in 1994, disturbing developments began to emerge. Journalists

were receiving threats and intimidations; several newspapers were suspended; the

government brought several journalists to court; and several journalists were killed

in mysterious circumstances while the press law was being drafted. The journalists

brought to court received severe sentences while the enacted press law curtailed

the Constitutional right to free speech.

In 1995 Sam Rainsy, MP for Siem Reap and the Minister of Finance, was sacked from

the Government. Later on he was expelled from his party, FUNCINPEC, and, in June,

from the National Assembly altogether. In September a grenade was thrown at the Son

Sann faction's office of the Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP) and another

at its followers resting at a nearby Buddhist monastery while that faction was organizing

its party's congress in defiance of warnings from some government quarters that there

might be grenade attacks at the gathering.

Hardly a month later, a group of peasants from the Kraingyov region whose development

is personally sponsored by the Second Prime Minister came to attack the office of

an "opposition": New Liberty Newspaper. Koh Santipheap newspaper and later

on the Second Prime Minister himself justified such a attack while little voice was

raised to condemn such violence.

In the middle of November Prince Norodom Sirivudh was reported by a local newspaper

that he was scheming an assassination plot against the Second Prime Minister. A few

days later troops and tanks were sent to surround his house in order to "protect"

him. Two days later the National Assembly unanimously lifted his immunity. Soon after

a arrest warrant based on the charges that he was plotting to overthrow the government

was issued and he was arrested and remanded in custody.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh is the Secretary-General of FUNCINPEC, the victorious party

at the last elections; he is an MP; he is former Foreign Minister who had resigned

his ministerial post in a very noble way; he is a member of the royal family; and

he is half brother of the King of Cambodia. He is also known as a strong supporter

of democracy and human rights. Now he is detained and is awaiting trial.

Nothing should be done to interfere with the court proceedings and influence that

trial. No one including the King can be above the law. Dura lex set lex, the law

is harsh but it is the law; it has been made for or against no one in particular.

All are equal before it. However, Prince Sirivudh is entitled to full rights while

in detention, and to a fair, public trial.

Because of his position, of his arrest and detention reportedly not in conformity

with the legal procedures in force, of the reported threat used for the lifting of

his immunity, of the National Assembly's questionable way of lifting that immunity,

Sirivudh's case has attracted a lot of attention, concern and criticisms all over

the world, and Cambodia has now become once again a spotlight of the world, for a

different reason this time. The international community will be following closely

the attitude and the workings of the judiciary and the courts of law in Cambodia.

Their handling or mishandling of the case will engage their own stature and reputation,

whether they can be seen and trusted as having competence, independence and impartiality.

More importantly, they will engage the reputation of the Cambodian nation as a whole

and influence the perception of this nation by the international community, whether

this nation can be trusted to keep its promises and honor its obligations under the

various international agreements, including the Paris Peace Agreements and the international

human rights instruments, it has signed; and whether it can live in peace with itself

as an independent and sovereign nation on the road to civilization paved by the Paris

Peace Agreements, and worthy of past and continued international assistance and of

a place in the international community.

The judiciary and the courts now have a good opportunity to prove themselves. They

should not miss it. They should show to the world that they are indeed competent,

independent and impartial, and ensure that Prince Norodom Sirivudh will have a fair,

public trial.

Prince Norodom Sirivudh indeed will be in the dock, but Cambodia itself will be on

trial for the world to judge. The truth that will come out of that trial will reveal

a lot of truth about the Cambodian nation.

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