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'Time is of essence' in setting up court for Khmer Rouge crimes - UN official

'Time is of essence' in setting up court for Khmer Rouge crimes - UN official

With the United Nations and Cambodia having just concluded a draft framework concerning the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders, the top UN legal official today stressed that "time is of essence" in getting final approval to establish the special court.

The head of the UN delegation to Phnom Penh, Legal Counsel Hans Corell, told a press briefing at UN Headquarters in New York that he hoped the General Assembly and Cambodian authorities would act quickly to approve the draft framework. He said that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had sent a letter to the General Assembly President to report on progress thus far.

"The trials will focus on senior leaders and they are pretty aged, and as you know the person responsible for the government in those days is already dead," Mr. Corell said. "That's why its important that the trials can be held before those who will be the focus of the trial are too old to stand."

When asked if the Cambodian Government was likely to follow through with the trials, Mr Corell said there was a new flexibility on the Cambodian side, considering that there were provisions that are much stronger to protect the integrity of the process than in any previous texts. "Cambodia realizes that this is the last chance, they can no longer go on discussing this," he said. "If we had not succeeded this time, the matter would have been closed."

Mr. Corell also noted that UN Member States helped the process by getting involved and holding discussions with Cambodian authorities. "There is a distinct difference because it is the General Assembly that has taken charge of the process," he said.