THE 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 Nov 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 Nov 26, 1997.
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 Jan 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 Ham- marberg'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 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 Oct 23, and his visit will overlap with that
of the experts.
The commission had planned to finish a report, which Annan will present
to the General Assembly, by the end of the year. However, recent unrest
here caused a two-month delay in the experts' visit they were originally
scheduled to arrive in September, in the midst of street demonstrations.
The delay will probably push back the completion of the report, according
to member Stephen Ratner, an American law professor. "We are reading
a great deal in preparation for our trip and remain open- minded,"
Ratner said. The commission also includes Rajsoomer Lallah, a jurist from
Mauritius. Khmer Rouge historian David Ashley who speaks and reads Khmer
is expected to accompany the lawyers.
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.
In a July 31 letter to the government, Kofi Annan asked for government cooperation
with the commission and its efforts "to assess, after consulting with
governments concerned, the feasibility of bringing KR leaders to justice
and explore options for bringing them to justice before international or
Further action could take the form of a trial domestic, international, some
mix of the two, or in another country or a truth commission.