As a high-profile UN delegation arrived in Phnom Penh on Thursday March 16, the negotiations
about a tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders entered what may be its final
UN Undersecretary-General for Legal Affairs Hans Corell, who heads the delegation,
refused to publicly discuss the issues that need to be hammered out between the UN
and the Cambodian government. But in a recent letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen, UN
Secretary-General Kofi Annan mentioned four issues that the UN sees as vital to ensure
international standards of justice for the trial:
- A majority of UN-appointed international judges.
- Independent international prosecutor and investigating judge.
- Guarantees that all suspects will be arrested.
- No recognition of previously granted amnesties.
The current tribunal draft law does not incorporate any of these points, and major
obstacles for earlier agreement has in particular been the number of Cambodian and
international judges and the government-favored co-prosecution.
At a press conference at Pochentong Airport, Corell acknowledged that there are still
significant differences between the UN and the Cambodian government.
"There are a few issues, but I prefer to discuss them directly with the government.
We should not be negotiating through the media," Corell said.
"Also, much has happened since I last met with [head of the KR tribunal task
force] Mr Sok An, and I'm sure both sides have reflected on the situation. It would
not serve the purpose to point at certain issues that might not be issues after all,"
In the weeks leading up to the departure of the delegation, the UN had been pressured
by some member states, including the US and France, to reach an agreement with the
Cambodian government, even if it meant compromising on certain legal principles.
Although Corell is known as an advocate for a rigid stance towards the Cambodians,
one political analyst said that the inclusion of Lakhan Mehrotra in the delegation
could be seen as a sign that the UN may cave in to the Cambodian demands.
Mehrotra, who was previously Annan's Special Representative in Cambodia, caused an
outcry last year when he described Hun Sen as a "champion of human rights"
in a speech before an important donor meeting.
On the other side of the negotiating table, government officials have sent conflicting
signals as to whether they're willing to compromise on any of the disputed issues.
President of the National Assembly, Prince Ranariddh, recently said that the UN's
concerns must be addressed and later retracted his statement. The Prime Minister,
who seems to have grown increasingly weary of the subject, has claimed several times
that he doesn't trust the UN.
The week before the arrival of the UN team, a visiting US State Department official,
Ralph Boyce expressed optimism that a compromise could be reached. However, there
are limits to how far the Cambodians will bend.
"We welcome the arrival of the UN delegation and we are ready to clarify some
issues. But we don't want to change the work that we have already done. The draft
law has already been changed three times and we have discussed it with many foreign
experts," said Om Yentieng, who is advisor to Hun Sen and part of the KR tribunal
The UN delegation was scheduled to meet with Sok An and possibly with Hun Sen and
members of the National Assembly's Legislative Committee where the tribunal draft
law is currently being reviewed.
The team was expected to leave Phnom Penh on March 22. Corell refused to comment
on whether further negotiations will be necessary - or even possible - after that.
"It's too early to say," Corell said.