The appeal of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s guilty verdict in Case 002/01 is slated to start on Thursday, and will feature three witnesses expected by defence teams to shed light on key elements of the case, court officials said yesterday.
The tribunal’s workings have dragged on for years longer than initial estimates indicated, and court legal communications officer Lars Olsen said at yesterday’s briefing that the Case 002/01 appeal is not likely to be finished before January – though even that is an idealistic estimate, he added.
Appellants Khieu Samphan, former head of state of Democratic Kampuchea, and Nuon Chea, the regime’s former second in command, were sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity last August, though the two have alleged the court’s trial chamber made hundreds of "errors in law and in fact” in its judgement of the case.
Based on the appeal, "the trial chamber judgement is not final and enforceable, and therefore [the accused] are presumed innocent at the current stage of the proceedings,” Olsen said yesterday.
According to the defence, Olsen said, the scheduled witnesses are expected to offer an alternate version of the events at the Tuol Po Chrey execution site following the fall of the capital in 1975, and will likely refute claims of an official Khmer Rouge doctrine to target soldiers and civil servants affiliated with the deposed Lon Nol regime.
“At least one of the witnesses is alleged to have worked very closely with Ros Nhim,” said Olsen, referring to the former Northwest zone secretary, who was later tortured and executed at Tuol Sleng security centre.
Olsen also said that should the defendants be successful in their appeal, it would affect “the [current] reparation projects endorsed by the chambers”, such as memorials and mental health programs for Khmer Rouge victims.
The hearing of the appeal was delayed, in part due to granting the defendants extra time to work given the large scale of the case, Olsen said.
However, Long Panhavuth, program officer for Cambodian Justice Initiative, said the size of the case did not excuse the ineffectiveness of the court.
“The hearing at the Supreme Court is really slow. I think this is not going to be a good legacy for the rule of law in Cambodia,” he said, adding that issues of excessive detention and case gridlock were a “huge problem” for the country.
The slow-turning cogs of the justice system were also highlighted in a letter – declassified yesterday – sent by co-investigating judge Mark Harmon on January 30 to Em Sam An, secretary of state for the Ministry of Interior, which states that the ministry repeatedly ignored the court’s requests to arrest suspects Im Chaem and Meas Muth in cases 003 and 004.
In the letter, Harmon forewarns that he will be forced to charge both parties in absenstia – which he ultimately did in March of this year: “I feel that I am left with no other choice … however further delay creates unacceptable risk to the rights of the suspects and the victims.”
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, could not be reached for comment.