Thursday, 23 October 2008

Past Post: UN inches forward to Khmer Rouge trial

THIS WEEK IN HISTORY Vol. 7, No. 2316-29 October, 1998

The Phnom Penh Post

Thursday, 23 October 2008

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 November 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 November 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 January 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 Hammarberg'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 [Hun Sen and Norodom Ranariddh] 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 October 23, and his visit will overlap with that of the experts.

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.

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