Sheen Comes Off Khmer Rouge Trial
Image Credit: ECCC

Sheen Comes Off Khmer Rouge Trial


The courtroom on the dusty outskirts of the Cambodian capital may have been hosting what has been described as ‘the most important trial in the world.’ But the sheen is already coming off a case aimed at holding to account four accused of being closely involved in the deaths of more than 2 million people during the Khmer Rouge’s reign in the 1970s.

The problems in the UN-backed case centre on additional investigations pending at the tribunal. Although prosecutors have said they will pursue just two more cases beyond the current ‘Case 002’, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has already come out strongly against doing so, reportedly telling UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon last year that Cases 003 and 004 ‘will not be allowed.’

Now, it appears UN court staff may be bowing to this political meddling, raising uncomfortable questions for a court that was established in part to combat Cambodia’s culture of impunity.

‘There’s no question that this is a crucial moment in the court’s history,’ says Clair Duffy, a trial monitor with the Open Society Justice Initiative. ‘Judicial independence is an issue that goes to the heart of this institution, and not something that just relates to Cases 003 and 004.’

Under the court’s procedural rules, modelled on the French civil law system, prosecutors make initial submissions to a pair of judges who then make a decision on whether to indict or dismiss a case after conducting an investigation. The court’s foreign prosecutors made submissions in Cases 003 and 004 in 2009 – notably without the support of their Cambodian counterparts – and in April, the judges announced the conclusion of investigations in the third case.

While the suspects’ names remain officially confidential, court documents reveal them as Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Mut and air force commander Sou Met, aging former cadres now living quiet lives after defecting to the government years ago.

The judges provided scant public information about the investigation of these men during the roughly 20 months that it was open, leading court observers to question whether the case was being handled properly. With the announcement of the investigation’s closure  – which came in a terse, late-afternoon press release on the Friday before a holiday weekend – those fears gained new urgency.

In response, British prosecutor Andrew Cayley requested that the judges perform a series of additional investigative steps, as he’s permitted to do prior to a final decision from the judges on whether the case will go to trial. Among the steps Cayley said had yet to be taken were tasks so basic as to put the integrity of the original investigation into doubt. The investigating judges apparently made no effort to solicit complaints from victims during their probe, after hundreds gave statements in the first and second cases, nor did they conduct detailed investigations of a series of potential crime sites named by the prosecution. The suspects themselves weren’t even questioned.

September 20, 2011 at 20:16

I could watch Schindler’s List and still be happy after raeding this.

August 18, 2011 at 22:07

If you are not a Cambodian, you have no way of relating to there pain. I have been there as an American. I have seen the devastation. Let the Cambodian survivors decide what to do with KR..I don’t care how old they are..As for better ways to help the govt.? Alot is being done on a consistent impactive basis. Too many groups and projects to list. Pol Pot was a sick bastard coward. He may have died peacefully in his sleep…but he awakened to a eternal torment of hell..a real place…KR needs to be brought to justice and dignity restored to the Cambodian citizens who suffered grave loss..Stand and fight..

Leonard R.
July 18, 2011 at 12:23

I partly disagree with Mssrs Stone & Finch.

What you have here is the spectacle of Europeans going into Cambodia, spending a lot of money putting very old Cambodian men on trial.

BTW, Pol Pot died peacefully in his sleep. He’s not the one standing trial here.

This is not a pretty sight. It smacks of paternalism & colonialism.
I agree Cambodia is not a well-governed country. But that would be
true whether or not this tribunal was being held.

I think there are better ways the West can help Cambodia than this.
Use this money for rural water projects.

KR Survior
July 13, 2011 at 10:13

I’m a Khmer Rouge survivor and have no regret to put all KR leaders on trial for killing their own people. However, in my opinion to let their people crucify their own citizens. All of you should just watch and learn and write more textbooks to teach in your classroom. You all three can make all kinds of presumption about the KR trial but at the end are the Khmer people who suffer but learn from the mistake I hope.

I think we should be more worry about the Chinese who advance in technology because they have their comrade to come and steal American technologies…

Robert Finch
July 12, 2011 at 10:54

Leonard R – Cambodia is a poor country because its government doesn’t care about its people, and because they and their cronies are selling the country and its natural resources to foreign companies – Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean – which care little for human rights or the lives of Cambodian people. The result is a poor people with a rich kleptocratic government and ruling elite. This is not the fault of the Europeans and the Americans – except perhaps for continuing to pour aid into Cambodia.

As for the tribunal – as I’m sure that you realise – without justice, there is impunity, and impunity is fertile ground for gross crimes against humanity. This is what the Khmer Rouge years were about, and what the tribunal was trying to change. Unfortunately, it is not succeeding. The Europeans should be thanked for trying to change Cambodia for the better, and for taking a principled stance in recent times. I suggest that you spend some time in Cambodia – then you might be better positioned to form a sensible view.

William Stone
July 11, 2011 at 19:32

Maybe those “poor citizen’s” would have more to eat if the Khmer Rouge hadn’t killed 2,000,000 people who could have been the innovators and inventors that Cambodia needed to feed their poor.

Maybe it’s not just “meddling Europeans” who would like to see some accountability from those responsible for the genocide that took place in Cambodia.

Maybe genocide should never be acceptable.

Leonard R.
July 10, 2011 at 08:49

I don’t blame the Cambodian leader. Who are all these meddling Europeans anyway? Cambodia is a poor country. Why are they spending so much money
putting feeble old men on trial? Cambodia is a poor country. It is a young country. Many of its citizens do not have enough to eat.

If the Europeans really care about Cambodians, they should take the money
for these trials and use it to feed the hungry & bring fresh water to people in that country.

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