On 3 March, the International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon of the UN-backed Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) charged two former Khmer Rouge members with several crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea regime.
The suspects in both cases, known as Cases 003 and 004, have been charged in absentia. Both suspects are thought to be among those most responsible for Khmer Rouge atrocities committed between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.
Meas Muth, suspect in Case 003, is said to have had authority over sending people to S-21, the notorious security prison, where they were tortured and ultimately killed. A high ranking navy commander in the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea, Muth is accused of torture and killing of Vietnamese, Thai and other foreigners captured at sea and on the islands over which Democratic Kampuchea claimed sovereignty. He is also charged with having committed Grave Breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.
Im Chaem, a former district commander was charged with homicide, the crimes against humanity of murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds and other inhumane acts at the Phnom Tryoung security centre in Banteay Meanchey province. She was further charged with the crimes against humanity of murder, enslavement, imprisonment and other inhumane acts for her role at the Spean Sreng work site.
With the filing of the charges, the suspects and their lawyers will for the first time have access to the case file and will be able to participate in the investigation.
The charges were issued unilaterally by Harmon, without the approval of the Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng, who has maintained that he considers the cases against the suspects in Cases 003 and 004 to be closed.
Only last week, Prime Minister Hun Sen – himself a former Khmer Rouge commander who defected and took part in the Vietnamese invasion that overthrew the regime – allegedly warned that war and chaos could ensue if the Khmer Rouge Tribunal continued to pursue additional cases.
After case 003 and 004, no further cases will be submitted to the Co-Investigating Judges in order to allow the International Co-Prosecutor and his staff to focus squarely on completing the cases currently on appeal, at trial and under investigation.
Reuters reported that Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said decisions on how far the cases will go, or whether the charges would be dismissed, would come next year and the pair should be presumed innocent until proved guilty.”The charging of these two persons is not an indication on what will become the outcome of the investigation,” he said.
Ilawyer John Jones QC is acting as foreign co-lawyer for Im Chaem.