The United Nations has pulled out of negotiations with Cambodia over the establishment of a criminal court to try cases from the Khmer Rouge era in the late 1970s. According to the U.N., the Cambodian government will not guarantee the independence and objectivity of any such trials.
The decision to pull out of the talks was made by Secretary-General Kofi Annan after it was determined that the Cambodian government was not willing to ensure the independence of any international court set up to try Khmer Rouge leaders. U.N. Spokesman Fred Eckhard said there were two key reasons for this decision. "The U.N. has concluded that as currently envisaged the Cambodian court would not guarantee the independence, impartiality and objectivity which are required by the U.N. for it to cooperate with such a court," he said. "Second, the [Cambodian] government rejected the U.N. proposal that the assistance that the U.N. will provide would be governed by the agreement between the U.N. and Cambodia. Cambodia insists that only its own rules would govern such assistance. The establishment of a working tribunal often referred to as "extraordinary chambers" to try the Khmer Rouge has been the subject of negotiations since June 1997. Since then, the U.N. has been working to determine the feasibility of such a tribunal.
Among the concerns for the U.N. was a provision guaranteeing defendants the right to independent counsel. To ensure this and other basic rights, the U.N. and the Cambodian government worked closely to draft a document setting out rules for the court which adhered to standards of agreed international law.
However, the government in Cambodia has moved to overrule such a document by passing a law which outlines how it wants such trials to be conducted. Consequently, the U.N. says it has no choice but to withdraw.
Hans Corell, legal counsel to the Secretary-General, said "having carefully considered these concerns, the United Nations has concluded that the proceedings of the extraordinary chambers will not guarantee the international standards of justice, required for the United Nations to continue to work towards their establishment." U.N. officials say they plan to deliver a formal letter to the Cambodian government saying the United Nations "will no longer negotiate" on the creation of a court to try surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for genocide and crimes against humanity.
An estimated two million Cambodians were killed or died of starvation between 1975 and 1979 as the Khmer Rouge government enforced its brutal policies.