Chhouk Rin at his trial
judge's decision last month to release former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin
was an "independent" court ruling, and the lawyers at Rin's trial should
be proud of their work, said an American judicial expert at a legal forum on Aug
"I would like to congratulate the prosecutors and the judges [at Rin's trial],"
said Skip Gant, a UN Judicial Mentor at the Phnom Penh Municipal court.
"We should take this case as an example of the lawyering we should all be doing."
Rin was charged with the kidnap and murder of three Western backpackers in 1994.
At his July 18 trial, heavily criticized by legal and human rights groups, Rin was
freed on the basis of a six-month amnesty for defecting rebels in the 1994 law banning
Rin's trial and the 1994 law were the main topics of the discussion forum, organized
by the Cambodian Bar Association and the UN Center for Human Rights. Opinions on
the subject varied considerably with some questioning the law and the trial and others
The Chief of the UN Center's Legal Assistance Unit, Surya Dhungel argued that the
KR law was unconstitutional.
"If we look at the preamble and some of the paragraphs, it is clear that the
National Assembly assumed judicial power when writing the law," said Dhungel,
pointing to Article 2, which states that the KR shall automatically "be deemed
offenders against the Constitution and violators of the laws of the Kingdom of Cambodia".
"Parliament had already passed judgment, which according to the Constitution
is only in the power of the judiciary," said Dhungel.
He also argued that the law violates the equality for all Cambodians provided by
the Constitution by being applicable only to the KR.
Others debated who would fall into the category of "leaders" that the law's
Article 6 exempts from amnesty. Also, there was some discussion about when and what
crimes the amnesty covers.
The kidnapping of the three backpackers took place shortly after the KR law was approved
by the National Assembly. Some lawyers have argued that the six month amnesty provision
could only cover crimes committed before the law was promulgated. To include crimes
committed after the promulgation would amount to issuing a six month carte blanche
for the KR to kill, rape, rob and murder as long as they defected before the end
of the amnesty period.
Rin's lawyer, Put Theavy, believes that's the way the law should be read.
"The amnesty covers any crime committed any day. As long as it was committed
before the amnesty period expired it can not be punished - even if somebody killed
one million people," said Theavy after the forum.
The Cambodian Government and the embassies of the three slain backpackers have appealed
against Rin's release.