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Indictments Hint at Tribunal Independence: Scholar

An American professor who has been following and writing crucial articles about the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal on Monday offered a cautious congratulations to the court’s latest development which could lead to more prosecutions of the regime’s senior leaders.

John Hall, a law professor at Chapman University School of Law, said in a letter to VOA Khmer that “by deciding to open the door to additional prosecutions, the tribunal has proclaimed its determination to remain above political manipulation.”

Hall was referring to a decision by the Pre-Trial Chamber last week to move five more indictments to the investigating judges, following the recommendation of the international prosecutor’s office and against the judgment of the Cambodian prosecutor.

Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that further indictments could lead to instability or war, fears echoed by Cambodian officials and judges. (Three Cambodian Pre-Trial judges decided against moving the indictments forward, but with two international judges in favor of the move, the chamber did not reach the super-majority necessary to kill the prosecution’s submissions to investigating judges.)

“The apparent willingness of the tribunal to move forward with additional prosecutions suggests that the international judges at least are unwilling to allow Hun Sen to influence the legal proceedings with alarmist threats of impending civil war,” Hall wrote.

The concern of instability has little basis in the reality of contemporary Cambodia, Hall said, calling the split decision “particularly worrying, because the argument against additional prosecutions—a vague and less unconvincing threat of civil war from the prime minister—is clearly not a legal argument adequate for the court to reject additional indictments, such as an insufficiency of evidence.”

Now, Hall said, a worry lingers over whether Cambodian officials will cooperate with the court if the indictments move even further through the process.

“How will the Cambodian government respond if indictments are brought against former senior Khmer Rouge who are currently active supporters of Hun Sen and the CPP?” he asked, referring to the ruling party. “Will the prime minister then use the excuse of national stability to pull the plug on the hybrid tribunal, perhaps proceeding with a purely domestic trial only of the current five defendants?”

The tribunal is currently trying Kaing Kek Iev, the former prison chief known as Duch, and is holding Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, four of the senior-most leaders.

At least one former Khmer Rouge commander, Meas Muth, a probable suspect for indictment who serves an advisory role to the Ministry of Defense, has said he does not fear prosecution for his role in what he says was defense of the country from foreign invasion.