Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN accepts flawed tribunal for KR

UN accepts flawed tribunal for KR

UN accepts flawed tribunal for KR

THE United Nations has accepted provisions that can jeopardize the handing out of

fair and independent justice at a future mixed Cambodian/international Khmer Rouge


This is apparent in a copy of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the UN

and the Cambodian Government concerning the tribunal and a list of agreed changes

to the tribunal draft law, which has been obtained by the Post.

After months of UN-Cambodian negotiations about the establishment of a KR tribunal,

an agreement was finally hammered out during a number of July 5-7 meetings between

a UN delegation headed by Undersecretary-General Hans Corell and the Cambodian Government's

tribunal task force under the Minister of the Council of Ministers, Sok An.

The agreement is reflected in the MoU and the agreed list of changes to the Government's

first tribunal draft law from January.

But analysts and legal experts say that although the two documents provide for a

more credible tribunal than the existing draft law, it will still not live up to

international standards of justice.

Meanwhile, the further process to set up a tribunal has effectively been held up

by the secrecy surrounding the agreement between Corell and Sok An. The Legislative

Commission of the National Assembly is currently reviewing the existing tribunal

draft law before it will go to debate on the Assembly floor.

But the commission has not been allowed to see the MoU or the list of changes, which

substantially alters the contents of the January draft law.

"We are working in the dark; we cannot work on the draft law without knowing

the agreement between the Government and the UN," says Commission Chairman Mohn

Sophan (Funcinpec). "I have asked to see these documents, but I cannot force

the Government to come to the National Assembly."

The MoU and the list of draft law changes add new elements to the existing tribunal

setup, such as a pretrial chamber that will decide on disagreements between the coprosecutors

or co-investigating judges.

The documents also contain extended provisions for the defense and a clause stating

that previously granted amnesties shall not be a bar to prosecution at the tribunal.

This is directly related to former KR foreign minister Ieng Sary, who received a

royal pardon in 1996 after defecting to the Government.

However, analysts say that this may not be enough to create a credible tribunal.

"The draft law lacks one profoundly important ingredient: international standards,"

says genocide researcher Craig Etcheson.

In New York the "mixed" nature of the KR tribunal has long been known as

the "Cambodia Model" - a model to be replicated in other countries, such

as Sierra Leone, where the UN is working to set up a war crimes tribunal in cooperation

with the Freetown government.

But Etcheson and others point out that compared to the Sierra Leone version, the

KR tribunal has a number of shortcomings, not least in terms of international presence

and control.

For instance the Sierra Leone tribunal will have a majority of international judges

in all chambers, while the KR tribunal has a majority of Cambodian judges, who rule

by supermajority. Also, the chief prosecutor in Sierra Leone will be international

with a deputy from Sierra Leone. At the KR tribunal, one Cambodian and one international

prosecutor have to work in unanimity - the so-called coprosecution.

Precisely the supermajority causes concern among the experts. Both the MoU and the

draft law state that a decision shall require the affirmative vote of a supermajority

of judges - that is four out of five judges in the Trial Chamber, five out of seven

in the Appeals Chamber and six out of nine in the Supreme Court.

However, it does not clarify what will happen if a supermajority is not reached or

whether the judges vote on conviction or acquittal. Some would argue that a conviction

can only be reached if a supermajority votes for it. But that will give the Cambodian

side de facto control to acquit any suspect they don't want to see convicted, since

the minority of international judges cannot ensure a conviction on their own.

Likewise, neither document mentions whether the supermajority vote applies only to

decisions on the verdict or also on other matters.

"If the decision-making process applies to all decisions, including procedural

and evidential matters, the Cambodian judges can block anything and everything,"

says Cambodia scholar Steve Heder.

This will unavoidably affect the outcome of any trial.

"International judges will be placed in the untenable position of having to

convict or acquit based on an evidentiary record that may be skewed by politically

dictated prior rulings of their Cambodian colleagues," the Executive Director

of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, has stated.

The Chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), Thun Saray,

is concerned about the appointment procedure for Cambodian judges. Whereas the Cambodian

Supreme Council of the Magistracy will have a say in what UN-nominated judges will

appear on the panel, the UN has no influence on what Cambodian judges are appointed.

"It is important to secure a good selection of Cambodian judges," says

Saray. "Everybody acknowledges that the Cambodian justice system is vulnerable

to political pressure. That's why we have suggested that the UN Secretary-General

should appoint both international and Cambodian judges."

One element that causes a collective outcry is that the trial proceedings will be

based on existing Cambodian criminal procedures. Some of these procedures simply

don't exist, such as the procedure for appointing prosecutors.

Also, the existing criminal procedure code is considered weak and not up to international


Some provisions in the draft law allow the ability to seek "guidance" in

international procedural rules, but trial proceedings, including witness protection

and the rights of the accused, essentially rely on "existing procedures in force".

"This is a contradiction in terms," says Heder. "Following procedures

in force means the trial will neither be fair nor protect the rights of the accused.

The provision to seek guidance is only a weak attempt to inject international standards."

Protection of witnesses and experts is left entirely up to the Cambodian Government

with no UN guarantees for their continued safety. Detention and custody of defendants

will be in the hands of Cambodian police and security forces who have a long track

record of torture and mistreatment of suspects.

On top of that, the MoU and the proposed draft law have no mention of foreign defense

counsel. According to Cambodian law, foreign lawyers are not allowed to appear in

a Cambodian court.

KR experts also raise questions about the formulation of the draft law's Article

1, which outlines the scope of the tribunal. It reads as follows:

"The purpose of this law is to bring to trial senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea

and those who were most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian

penal law, international humanitarian law and custom, and international conventions

recognized by Cambodia, that were committed during the period from 17 April 1975

to 6 January 1979."

Etcheson finds that the formulation has inherent problems.

"The Cambodian Government has never been able to define who is a Khmer Rouge

'leader', so how are they going to be able to determine who is a 'senior' leader?"

says Etcheson. "This mushy definition of personal jurisdiction is troubling

and opens the way to potentially endless wrangling."

Also, the wording could prevent investigation of the role of lower-ranking KR cadres

to determine the functions of their leaders.

Nevertheless, the only major change that the Legislative Commission has made so far

to the tribunal law is the altering of Article 1 into the wording above.

Since the UN-Government agreement in July, the commission has had one meeting with

Sok An, in which it finalized the first eight articles of the law.

At Post press time, no future meetings were scheduled, though Sophan believes that

the process could move along swiftly if the Government would brief the commission

on the full contents of the MoU and the list of changes.

"Personally, I'm willing to agree with everything that the Government and the

UN has decided," Sophan says. "So, I'm sure, is Prince Ranariddh and the

rest of Funcinpec."

But leaders of civil society blast the politicians for keeping the tribunal process

secret and not involving the Cambodian public in the debate.

Saray says: "We have called for more transparency before. The Government should

let the public participate in the KR tribunal process, as this is the concern of

all people."

Youk Chhang, the Director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, which collects

evidence and testimonies about Khmer Rouge atrocities, believes it is the obligation

of the parliamentarians to brief the voters in their constituencies about the tribunal


"They are our representatives and it is their task to inform the public about

the process. If they don't do that, one must ask two questions: Is it because the

parliamentarians are not doing their job properly? Or is it because they cannot do

anything because they are being held hostage? In this case it looks like they are

being held hostage," Chhang says.


  • NY sisters inspired by Khmer heritage

    Growing up in Brooklyn, New York, Cambodian-American sisters Edo and Eyen Chorm have always felt a deep affinity for their Cambodian heritage and roots. When the pair launched their own EdoEyen namesake jewellery brand in June, 2020, they leaned heavily into designs inspired by ancient Khmer

  • Cambodia records first Omicron community case

    The Ministry of Health on January 9 reported 30 new Covid-19 cases, 29 of which were imported and all were confirmed to be the Omicron variant. The ministry also reported 11 recoveries and no new deaths. Earlier on January 9, the ministry also announced that it had detected the Kingdom's

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • PM eyes Myanmar peace troika

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has suggested that ASEAN member states establish a tripartite committee or diplomatic troika consisting of representatives from Cambodia, Brunei and Indonesia that would be tasked with mediating a ceasefire in Myanmar. The premier also requested that Nippon Foundation chairman Yohei Sasakawa

  • Kampot tourism quay ‘90% done’

    Construction on Kampot International Tourism Port – a 4ha quay in Teuk Chhou district about 6km west of Kampot town – has fallen off track, reaching 90 per cent completion, according to a senior Ministry of Tourism official last week. The project is now planned to be finished

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that