THE United Nation's General Assembly is set to vote on a resolution that would force
the UN's Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) to return to negotiations with Cambodia on
a Khmer Rouge tribunal.
The UN surprised member states when it withdrew from negotiations on February 8 citing
a disagreement over which legal document should take precedence: Cambodia's trial
law or a proposed memorandum of understanding (MoU) that was to deal with the operational
aspects of the tribunal. The UN's position was that the MoU must prevail.
However UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan announced on August 22 that he would recommence
talks on the mooted tribunal if the General Assembly provided a fresh mandate. His
comments came after widespread international criticism by diplomats of the UN's position,
although human rights groups applauded the move.
The resolution to provide the fresh mandate, which was drafted by Australian diplomats
to the UN, will likely go before the assembly in November where it will require a
two-thirds majority in order to pass.
Diplomatic sources in Phnom Penh said the draft was shown to the Cambodian government
last week. The government was said to be satisfied with the wording, but declined
to co-sponsor the resolution.
"We cannot be a referee and a player at the same time," Foreign Minister
Hor Namhong told the Post on October 23 of his government's reasons for not co-sponsoring.
Others speculated that Chinese pressure ahead of the ASEAN summit might have generated
reluctance by Cambodia to co-sponsor the resolution. China is widely regarded as
opposed to a tribunal of former Khmer Rouge leaders.
However the government's chief trial negotiator Sok An said that Cambodia had not
discussed the issue with China and was still prepared to be a co-sponsor.
"Whether we sponsor or not depends on the content. If the content goes along
with the position of the government we will sponsor it," he told reporters on
October 24. He added that he was very satisfied with the current makeup of the resolution
and hoped that it would not change.
The resolution will be shown to the group of 27 'interested countries' before it
goes to the General Assembly. The group will try to reach a consensus on the wording
of the document.
"We hope that the new content will not put pressure on the upcoming negotiations,"
Sok An said.
A Phnom Penh-based diplomat said it came as no surprise that Cambodia appeared reluctant
to co-sponsor, but maintained the government was still keen to see the resolution
"The Cambodians were involved in the drafting of the resolution," he said.
"If they wanted to scuttle this then they wouldn't have participated."
A long time observer of the trial negotiations said Cambodia had always maintained
it had no interest in co-sponsoring the resolution. However he felt that would not
impede the resolution's progress.
He said the draft resolution had not yet been seen by Kofi Annan's office, the UN
secretariat, but said it was displeased that the resolution had been drafted and
"is liable to be even more displeased once they actually see what they are about
to be told to do".
The decision to pull out of negotiations, he said, was made by Kofi Annan's office
but had very little support from the international community. That echoed comments
made earlier this year by the UN special representative for human rights in Cambodia,
"The betting in New York is that the General Assembly will leave very little
room for a rearguard action [by the secretariat]," the observer concluded.