Cambodia: Justice Delayed


Dr Milton Osborne

Recent coverage in the Australian media of the failed court proceedings against Chhouk Rin, the alleged killer of Australian David Wilson in 1994, have tended to obscure the ongoing issue of the establishment of a tribunal to try former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime. Despite hopeful signs that progress has been made towards resolving this issue, there is still no certainty yet as to when, or if, a tribunal will be established.

At a meeting in Phnom Penh on 6 July the United Nations chief legal officer, Hans Corell, was reported to have reached agreement on outstanding technical issues standing in the way of a tribunal being set up. This followed apparent earlier agreement between Prime Minister Hun Sen and Secretary General Kofi Annan over such issues as shared responsibility in the appointment of prosecutors and judges following a deal brokered by United States Senator, John Kerry in early May. (Among the most important points of this deal was agreement for a majority of three Cambodian judges, out of five, and the appointment of two prosecutors, one Cambodian and one foreign.)

Legislation to establish the tribunal and regulate its operation has still to go to Cambodia's parliament and it is here that Phnom Penh observers raise doubts about the fate of the proposed legislation. Critics of Hun Sen suggest that he has skilfully engineered a situation in which he is able to show himself ready to see trials of Khmer Rouge leaders proceed while being able to rely on former Khmer Rouge colleagues in the National Assembly either vetoing or reducing the effectiveness of the legislation for a tribunal, to the point where it never comes into force. Certainly, there are grounds for believing that several CPP assemblymen, Chea Sim is one frequently mentioned, who would prefer that no tribunal is ever established. Meanwhile, there is no sign that former Khmer Rouge leaders living in Pailin are showing particular concern about their future. Senior Khmer Rouge figure, Ieng Sary, moreover, is sheltered from prosecution by the amnesty granted to him when he defected to the government in 1996.

The whole tribunal drama emphasises Hun Sen's currently firm grip on power in Cambodia. This grip, however, goes hand in hand with continuing rampant corruption and the abuse of power at every level of the administration, including recent land seizures by powerful commercial interests seeking to develop large-scale commercial agriculture in the northwest of the kingdom.

WATCHPOINT: : Debate over the Khmer Rouge Tribunal legislation in the National Assembly is unlikely to speed the course of justice.


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