The UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal has been unable to fully pursue at least two cases, due to the government’s unwillingness to arrest them, the US ambassador at large for war crimes says.
The process “has been hobbled at this point because of the government’s inability and frankly unwillingness to make those arrests,” the ambassador, Stephen Rapp, told VOA Khmer. “I urged the government to make those arrests.”
Rapp’s comments follow the resignation announcement of international investigating judge Mark Harmon, who had named two former Khmer Rouge leaders for indictment earlier this year. Neither was ever arrested.
Rapp, who met with Cambodian and tribunal officials in Phnom Penh last week, said the tribunal processes need to go forward, so that evidence against the accused can be weighed.
“We think that this is an important thing, not only for the history of Cambodia, so people will know what happened in their own country, but also to help establish rules and precedent for the future of Cambodian legal processes, to make sure that people can have confidence in their own system,” he said. “The people who are working in this court will go back to working in Cambodian courts.”
Harmon had been able to carry out an extensive investigation over the last two years in cases 003 and 004. In March, he filed charges against Meas Muth, the former commander of the Khmer Rouge navy, and Im Chaem, the former director of a Khmer Rouge detention center. But that was as far as the cases went. Harmon’s Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, did not agree to the charges, and the Cambodian government never deployed its forces to bring in the suspects, who refused to come in on their own, for questioning.
Meas Muth told VOA Khmer by phone Thursday that he was not cooperating with the court because the charges against him were made only by the international investigating judge. “The law states that there have to be co-lawyers, co-investigating judges, co-prosecutors,” he said. “Frankly speaking, I don’t have the idea of running from the country. If there’s really guilt, there should be legal discussion.”
Still, the non-cooperation by the Cambodian government could mean less willingness on the part of the US Congress to fund the tribunal further, Rapp said. The US wants the tribunal to succeed, he said, but that includes providing a legacy of due process of law, and in finding helping Cambodians understand the Khmer Rouge period.
He noted some progress by the court, in that it has helped the younger generation understand that part of Cambodia’s history. “We want it to be done in a fair process that will lay the foundation for the rule of law in Cambodia,” he said, “so that people can live freely and securely.”