ANLONG VENG, ODDAR MEANCHEY PROVINCE —
Im Chaem is riding her bicycle along a dusty road with her grandson towards a cattle field where she and her grandson will feed the livestock before sundown.
With a calm smile on her face, the former Khmer Rouge cadre, whose charges were dropped in February by the international tribunal investigating the regime’s crimes after a dispute over jurisdiction, says she is relieved.
“Now, I’m fine. Everything is finished and I never did anything wrong,” she said during an interview at her home in Anlong Veng, formerly a Khmer Rouge stronghold.
“Now nobody bothers me. I’m happier since before it was on my mind but now it’s finished.”
Chaem, reportedly a district secretary of Preah Net Preah in Banteay Meanchey province under the Khmer Rouge, was charged in March 2015 with crimes against humanity, including murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment and political persecution.
In February, however, the court dropped the charges, determining that her case did not fall within its jurisdiction as she was neither a senior leader nor one of the Khmer Rouge leaders most responsible for its crimes.
Chaem owns a farm now in Anlong Veng where she grows ginseng, rice and other crops.
Her daughter, Kaing Narin, concurs that her mother did nothing wrong. “I’m happy [with the decision] because nobody accuses her anymore. She said nothing, but I think she’s happy now,” Narin said.
The decision has prompted fresh questions over government influence at the U.N.-backed tribunal.
Professor Peter Maguire, author of “Facing Death in Cambodia”, said that it was clear that Chaem’s case was “never going to happen for the simple political reason that Prime Minister Hun sen opposed them.”
“The court deserves credit for their patience perseverance given the political headwinds they faced; the court certainly exceeded my expectations. Now it is time for them to go home,” he told VOA Khmer via email last month.
Hun Sen, who has ruled Cambodia for more than three decades, has repeatedly said he does not want to see further prosecutions of Khmer Rouge officials, which he said were costly and could lead to “civil war”.
In March 2015, Human Rights Watch accused Hun Sen of blocking prosecutions at the tribunal.
“Cambodian prosecutors and judges appointed to the ECCC have repeatedly refused to cooperate with prosecutions of additional suspects,” it said.
Long Panhavuth, a court monitor with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said he was preparing to review the decision to drop Chaem’s case.
“Justice doesn’t mean whether the court issued the right verdict or the closing order. It is to make the public see the fairness of the whole investigation and also so the ordinary people are able to understand the meaning of the decision,” Panhavuth said.
Neth Pheaktra, a tribunal spokesman, said there was no government pressure on the judges, saying their decision was “in line with the law and professionalism and was evidence-based.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said the decision would be hard to accept for Chaem’s victims.
“We know in advance some decisions will not meet the people’s satisfaction,” he said.
“This is a decision which is hard to accept.”
Long Khet, executive director of Youth for Peace, an educational NGO, said the decision risked creating a “culture of irresponsibility.”
“It affects the truth-seeking procedure, which is not comprehensive. And it can breed a culture of irresponsibility.”
For Chaem, the decision means she can forget and live out the rest of her days, she hopes, out of the limelight. “I can live in peace now,” she says.