Senate president Chea Sim yesterday appeared to endorse Prime Minister Hun Sen’s stated opposition to prosecutions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal beyond its second case, while the visiting United States ambassador for war crimes urged the court to resist political interference.
Chea Sim, who is also president of the Cambodian People’s Party, said that his party “supports” the court’s process “along the line of what was stated” by Hun Sen to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon during a meeting in the capital on October 27 last year.
In that meeting, Hun Sen “clearly affirmed that Case 003 will not be allowed”, Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters at the time, fuelling speculation that the government was meddling in judicial decisions.
“The court will try the four senior leaders successfully and then finish with Case 002,” Hor Namhong added.
Speaking yesterday at the 60th anniversary of the CPP, Chea Sim said his party “supports the process” of the court “to try the crimes committed by the most senior leaders of the regime”.
While the court’s mandate gives it jurisdiction to try two categories of people – “senior leaders” and “those most responsible” for the atrocities of the regime – Chea Sim mentioned only the first.
Government officials have repeatedly stated that trying mid-ranking cadres, such as the three suspects in Case 004, could spark unrest and plunge the Kingdom back into civil war.
Both cases remain officially open but the court’s co-investigating judges have apparently sabotaged the Case 003 investigation, which concerns former KR navy commander Meas Mut and air force commander Sou Met. No information has been released on the Case 004 investigation.
In comments to the press yesterday during a visit to Phnom Penh, the United States Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues, Stephen Rapp, said the US expected decisions at the tribunal to be based on the law and the facts of the case.
“We know that people would like to see this tribunal finished at the end of Case 002, but that is not a political decision. The decision is to be made by this court according to the statute, according to the law, according to the facts that are developed,” he said.
Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative who attended the press briefing, said yesterday that Rapp’s statement “fail[ed] to recognise that previous statements of this nature have had no impact on the situation”.
“Right now, action – in the form of an independent inquiry – is what’s required here, not general statements about judicial independence,” Duffy said.
OSJI has called for an investigation into claims that Case 003 had been deliberately botched by the co-investigating judges – who did not interview suspects or investigate crime sites – amid political pressure.
Duffy said Chea Sim’s comments were “definitely suggestive” of pressure on the court.
“Why would there be need for any reference to the executive in talking about an independent judicial process, particularly knowing that the Prime Minister expressed clear opposition to Cases 003 and 004 during that 27 October meeting?” she said.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said the government respected the mandate of the court.
“But we do have a right to express ourselves as a government too, or as a political party, too,” he added.