(New York) -- Human Rights Watch called today for close coordination between the United States and the United Nations in creating a credible and effective tribunal to prosecute Khmer Rouge leaders. U.S. Ambassador for War Crimes David Scheffer was slated to meet with Cambodian officials this weekend.
"We welcome recent reports that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen may be ready to return to discussions on a tribunal with international participation," said Sidney Jones, executive director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch. "But any discussion must be based on international principles and standards."
It is unclear whether a recent U.S. diplomatic initiative to break deadlocked U.N.-Cambodian negotiations upholds the minimum standards of justice the U.N. has insisted on in its discussions with the Cambodian government. Details of the U.N.-Cambodian negotiations have not been revealed.
Jones noted that the U.N. has already presented detailed proposals to the Cambodian government for a tribunal that meets international standards and is currently waiting for draft implementing legislation from the Cambodian government to that effect. "Any U.S. diplomatic initiative should support the groundwork laid by the U.N.," said Jones.
According to press reports, the United States has recently proposed that a "super majority" of judges be required for all judgments as a way of circumventing an impasse between the U.N. and the Cambodian government over whether international or Cambodian judges would predominate. In this formulation, Cambodian judges would be in the majority, but more than the number of Cambodian judges would be required for any decision, effectively giving foreign judges veto power. Other aspects of the U.S. plan reportedly call for U.N. monitoring of the tribunal, limiting the scope of prosecutions, and creating a special chamber within the existing Cambodian court system to try the Khmer Rouge. It remains unclear in the U.S. proposal who would appoint judges and prosecutors.
Human Rights Watch believes that the prosecutor and judges should all be approved by the United Nations secretary general. While a super majority voting system may be valuable, the token inclusion of international judges does not substitute for ensuring that the prosecutor and judges-- whether international or Cambodian-- are of the highest integrity, caliber and independence.
In addition to ensuring the quality of the judges, Human Rights Watch urged that the parties to the negotiations should also ensure that no artificial limit be placed on the number of defendants, nor should anyone in the senior Khmer Rouge leadership be excluded from trial, in order to prevent political bias in prosecutions. Instead, jurisdiction should cover those responsible for the most serious crimes during the 1975-1979 period.
At the request of the Cambodian government, the U.N. has sent two groups of experts to Cambodia to evaluate options for bringing the Khmer Rouge to justice. In August the experts recommended to the Security Council that trials take place in Cambodia, with indictments prepared by international prosecutors and approved by a predominantly non-Cambodian panel of judges appointed by the Secretary-General. Until recently Hun Sen has rejected this formulation, calling for limited international participation in a tribunal within the Cambodian court system, with foreign judges in a minority.
"Unless the U.N. is in full control of the process, any tribunal would likely be subject to political manipulation," said Jones, noting that Cambodia's three leading legal aid organizations recently called for U.N. control over Khmer Rouge trials because the Cambodian judicial system is subject to pervasive political influence and lacks judicial impartiality.