Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday praised the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s sentencing of torture chief Duch, in the premier’s first public statement since the decision last week.
Victims have said they are unsatisfied with the commuted sentence of the prison chief, under whose supervision more than 12,000 people were tortured and executed.
Hun Sen said the courts had made an independent decision free of political influence.
“The Royal Government of Cambodia respects the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s decision because the court is independent,” he said in public remarks. “We respect the independence of the court. The court sentenced Duch to 35 years in jail. It is up to the court, which the Royal Government of Cambodia must respect.”
In fact, Duch was handed a commuted sentence of only 19 years, following leniency and time served.
And tribunal observers say the court risks being tainted by political influence, with a number of senior officials refusing to cooperate with the international investigating judge and public statements by the premier against further indictments at the UN-backed court.
“The tribunal is facing problems of independence…relating to summonses of witnesses and progress on Case Nos. 003 and 004,” said Long Panhavuth, a tribunal monitor for the Cambodian Justice Initiative. “The government has not allowed the arrest of more suspects.”
Bu Meng, a former prisoner in Duch’s S-21, was not convinced of the court’s independence.
“The tribunal verdict seems to have had pressure from some circle or someone,” he said. “But [Prime Minister] Hun Sen said the court has independence and non-interference. That’s his right. The rights of the victims are different.”
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the verdict had the support of donor countries in a decision that was jointly arrived upon by international and national judges.