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Rights Groups Push Tribunal for More Public Information

A tourist walks past photos of former prisoners displayed at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, a former Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21, in Phnom Penh.
A tourist walks past photos of former prisoners displayed at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, a former Khmer Rouge prison known as S-21, in Phnom Penh.

A consortium of rights and development organizations on Thursday urged the Khmer Rouge tribunal to release more information on two controversial cases opposed by the government, amid increased concerns the court will not complete its work.

Twenty-four groups, including Adhoc, Licadho and the Cambodian Defenders Project, said in a statement they want a “full” release of information related to cases 003 and 004 in “the interest of the victims.”

The court has come under increased pressure in recent weeks to move forward on the two cases, which contain five more suspects for Khmer Rouge atrocity trials. The facts of the cases have been kept confidential, along with the names of suspects, making it difficult for civil parties to file specific grievances against them.

Questions over those cases have created a rift in the court between the jurists who support further indictments, such as international prosecutor Andrew Cayley, and those who do not, such as his counterpart Chea Leang.

Further complicating the proceedings is an order issued by the investigating judges of the tribunal requiring Cayley to retract a public statement that gave some details of the case and urged the judges to name and question the suspects in Case 003.

The 24 groups said in their statement Thursday that recent developments “compound our grave concerns that the impartiality, integrity, and the independence of
[tribunal] judges are being tainted.”

Information from the court has not been timely enough for proper victim participation, the groups wrote, pointing to a key mandate of the court: national reconciliation over the traumatic abuses wrought by the Khmer Rouge.

Theary Seng, a US-Cambodian lawyer who has sought to be a complainant in Case 003, said Cayley had not violated court regulations by issuing his statement, which also included the names of some sites warranting further investigation.

“But the co-investigating judges [have] abandoned their responsibilities to give information to the public,” she said.

Tribunal spokesman Dim Sovannarom said the investigating judges were “aware of [victims’] concerns and their need for information…but they have to respect their independent role and the confidentiality of the investigation.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly, publicly opposed indictments in cases 003 and 004, leading to outside concerns he had politicized decisions within the court.

The controversy over Case 003 comes as the tribunal is moving toward the prosecution of Case 002, which would try jailed leaders Nuon Chea, Khieu Samphan, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith for atrocity crimes, including genocide.

The tribunal announced Wednesday the initial hearing in that trial would take place June 27.

Despite the announcement, concerns remain over their likely punishment and the overall impact of the tribunal on justice and national reconciliation.

And with none of the four suspects cooperating with the court, there are worries they may die before seeing their day in court.

“For me, it’s been too long now,” said Sum Rithy, a 58-year-old survivor of a Khmer Rouge prison in Siem Reap, who has applied as a civil party in Case 002. “I worry that they can’t be tried, that they’ll die before the trial. I have always been concerned about this, but if the process were faster, I’d be happier, in the spirit of wishing to see justice.”

Chum Mey, an 81-year-old survivor of Tuol Sleng prison, said he was pleased to hear the initial hearing was set, but he worried the case would end in disappointment.

He and other victims were unhappy with the sentencing of Tuol Sleng prison chief Duch, who received a commuted sentence of 19 years in the tribunal’s first trial.

“We worry that the younger generation will say, ‘Hey, Duch killed a lot of people, but he didn’t receive a life sentence, only 19 years,’” he said. This could lead the next generation into a “lawless” regime such as the Khmer Rouge, he said.

Civil party complainant Chum Sirath said proceedings for Case 002 will be even harder than in Duch’s trial, since the top leaders have not admitted any wrongdoing and have not cooperated with the court in the way Duch did.

“If the trial does not bring the truth, we’ll feel like there was no justice,” Chun Sirath said.

Dim Sovannarom said the court faced some obstacles, but by adhering to the legal process it would provide some sense of justice for victims.

Case 002 has about 1,100 civil party complainants, chosen out of more than 2,000 original submissions. The total number who will be allowed to present evidence or act as witnesses in the trial has not been determined.

Latt Ky, a tribunal monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said victims have so far been disappointed in the work of the court, especially some of its rules of confidentiality.

“So neither the public nor the victims know the developments of each office, or what lawyers are doing to prepare strategies, or ideas, for finding them justice,” he said.