The Khmer Rouge tribunal has come under criticism for dismissing the case against Im Chaem, a former district chief in the Khmer Rouge regime.
Judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the tribunal’s official title, last week voted to overturn a decision to proceed with prosecuting Chaem for crimes against humanity.
Chaem was one of three suspects in Case 004 and was accused of “murder, extermination, enslavement, imprisonment, persecution on political grounds, and other inhumane acts” at a security center and work site in Preah Net Preah district in the Khmer Rouge’s Northwest Zone.
The Cambodian government has been accused of political interference in the case and the defense has argued that the court should stick to a rigid interpretation of its mandate to only prosecute the most senior Khmer Rouge cadres.
The court ruled that the ECCC had no jurisdiction to prosecute Chaem.
As well as political interference, the ECCC has suffered from allegations of corruption, which has led to the resignation of numerous international staffers.
Peter Maguire, a law professor and author of “Facing Death in Cambodia”, said the latest decision provided further evidence that the court was “effectively over”.
“It is time for the UN and their human rights industry supporters to fold up their tent, say goodbye to Phnom Penh, and go home. This trial was grossly oversold by its supporters, who claimed that it would not just determine criminal guilt or innocence,” he said.
“While the ECCC was taking years dithering over motions for trials that would never happen, Cambodia’s free press died, the human rights situation devolved, and Prime Minister Hun Sen tightened his grip on the one-party state,” he added.
Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, accused Hun Sen of direct intervention to block Chaem’s prosecution.
“And so the Cambodian people are not going to get justice for the most serious crimes in the history of the country, some of them are serious crimes in the world, and Hun Sen is the person who is stopping this. And Cambodian people need to know that, the person who is keeping the Khmer Rouge from being put on trial is their prime minister, and he is former Khmer Rouge himself,” he said.
Daniel McLaughlin, a senior lawyer at the Center for Justice & Accountability, which provides legal support to more than 150 Khmer Rouge survivors,
“In their ruling, the Co-Investigating Judges had made statements that Cambodian national courts had no power to ever hear any Khmer Rouge-era cases -- meaning that the establishment of the ECCC had effectively stripped national courts of their inherent jurisdiction,” he said.
“We challenged this interpretation as it had no basis in the agreement between the UN and the ECCC and would have resulted in a widespread amnesty for atrocity crimes for everyone other than the very few individuals tried by the ECCC,” he added.
“We think this is potentially tremendously important as it safeguards the ability of Khmer Rouge victims to seek justice through their own court system, if and when they wish to do so and the political situation allows for it. In their decision, the International Pre-Trial Chamber judges also suggest that because the Im Chaem case cannot go forward at the ECCC, national courts should hear the charges against her.”
Chaem, speaking by phone from her home on Monday, said she was pleased to hear the decision had gone in her favor.
“Thank you all that help to find justice for me ... now see that the charges against me are not true and I don't have any guilt based on the charges,” she said.
Neth Pheaktra, an ECCC spokesman, told VOA Khmer that the decision will be the final step in the case, which was now closed.
“That means the decision of the co-investigating judges stands and Im Chaem will not be indicted before the ECCC as the co-investigating judges find that there is a lack of personal jurisdiction regarding the criminal allegations against her,” he said.