A Supreme Court panel of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal launched a four-day-long appeal hearing into convictions against Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan, an appeal that will finally determine his guilt.
Khieu Samphan’s defense team has appealed his conviction in Case 002/02 for genocide of the ethnic Vietnamese, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention. He was convicted with co-defendant Nuon Chea, who died in 2019.
The defendant was present in court on Monday, his face covered with a surgical mask as attendees at the hearing were expected to adhere to strict COVID-19 restrictions. Observers and journalists were tested on arrival and made to observe social distancing.
Defense lawyer Kong Sam Onn criticized the trial chamber for failing to deliver a written and reasoned verdict on time, he said, which could amount to a “violation” of the tribunal’s own internal rules.
Case 002/02 verdict was delivered in 2018 and found Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea guilty and sentenced the pair to life imprisonment in addition to the life sentence they were serving for mass evictions and the execution of Khmer Republic soldiers and officials.
“When the judges themselves disrespect their own internal rules, that’s the end and that will result in the failure of the legal sector due to the arbitrary actions in absence of rule of law and confidence in the judicial system,” Sam Onn said, asking the upper court to overturn the trial chamber’s decision.
Chea Leang, one of the national co-prosecutors, said the defense team’s arguments were insufficient to overturn the verdict.
The appeal hearing is expected to finish on Thursday or Friday, according to the tribunal’s spokesperson Neth Pheaktra.
Khieu Samphan was the head of state for Democratic Kampuchea, the official name of the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. He defected from the Khmer Rouge in 1998, after pledging allegiance to the Cambodian government but was arrested in 2007, according to the tribunal’s records.
The national and international sides of the pre-trial chambers have been severely split and in limbo over whether to send cases against former Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth and former Region 13 secretary Yim Tith, to trial, potentially leaving Khieu Samphan’s final appeal as the last hearing of the $330 million tribunal.
Long Panhavuth, a longtime observer of the tribunal, said the hybrid court was likely nearing the end, 15 years after its establishment was hailed a success.
“We can generally say that it is heading toward a point that when the Supreme Court chamber announces their verdict in the Case 002/02 appeal it will signal that the court will be proceeding to its end because we have no confidence that the Case 003 and Case 004 will find its days in court,” Long Panhavuth said.
The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge military commander in the Eastern Region before his 1977 defection to Vietnam, has been against any more cases being taken by the Khmer Rouge Tribunal after Case 002.