THE investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have concluded investigations in the court’s controversial third case, a move some observers say is a prelude to its long-planned dismissal.
In a document posted to the court’s website on Friday, co-investigating judges You Bunleng and Siegfriend Blunk notified prosecutors that they “consider the investigation has been concluded” in Case 003. The judges added in a press release that the 003 case file contains “more than 2,000 pieces of evidence, comprising more than 48,000 pages”.
According to the court’s internal rules, prosecutors now have 15 days to review the case file and decide whether to request additional investigative steps. If they decline to make such requests, they then have three months to prepare a final submission to the judges regarding suspects and crime sites in the case.
Upon receiving the prosecutors’ final submission, the investigating judges will then issue a “closing order” – dismissing the case or taking it to trial.
In introductory submissions for Cases 003 and 004 in 2009, prosecutors identified five potential suspects, the identities of whom remain confidential. Friday’s notification relates only to Case 003.
“We have no public information about how many suspects are in Case 003, but obviously it’s not five,” United Nations court spokesman Lars Olsen said.
Former Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth and air force commander Sou Met have been widely suggested as suspects in the court’s third and fourth cases.
Olsen described Friday’s notification as “a formal procedural step that the investigating judges are required by the rules to make … when they deem that they have concluded the investigation of the facts set out in the introductory submission by the co-prosecutors”.
The announcement comes amid speculation that the judges may ultimately be planning to dismiss Cases 003 and 004, which have run into opposition from Cambodian court officials and members of government.
During a visit by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to the Kingdom last year, Prime Minister Hun Sen said these cases “will not be allowed”, and that the court would conclude its operations after the upcoming trial in its second case.
In contrast to the conclusion-of-investigation notice the investigating judges issued last year in Case 002, Friday’s notice invited only prosecutors to make further investigative requests, and did not mention civil party or defence lawyers.
Individual lawyers have not been assigned to the five unnamed suspects in Cases 003 and 004. The court’s Defence Support Section has appointed Cambodian lawyer Kong Sam Onn to work on all the unnamed suspects’ behalves, though he has not been given access to case files 003 and 004.
Olsen said the suspects would be entitled to lawyers “if they were to be questioned as a witness or if they were to be charged with crimes”.
Clair Duffy, a trial monitor with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the lack of defence counsel at this stage in the proceedings indicated that the suspects themselves had not even been questioned over the course of the investigation, and that a dismissal of the case had been planned from the start.
“How can you close an investigation into the commission of mass atrocities without actually questioning the people in these allegations themselves?” she said.
Prospective civil parties, meanwhile, have not been given any indication of the scope of investigation in Case 003, nor direction in filing complaints that could aid in the prosecution of the suspects.
“People need to come forward about the fact that this is a charade, because it calls into question the whole legitimacy of the institution,” Duffy said. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA