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Khmer Rouge prosecutors split on Muth case

Meas Muth, former Khmer Rouge navy chief and war crimes suspect, smokes a cigarette at his house in Battambang in 2015.
Meas Muth, former Khmer Rouge navy chief and war crimes suspect, smokes a cigarette at his house in Battambang in 2015. Vireak Mai

Khmer Rouge prosecutors split on Muth case

The national and international co-prosecutors in the contentious Khmer Rouge tribunal case against Meas Muth have filed starkly different final submissions – with the Cambodian side again calling for the case to be dropped – according to statements released yesterday.

Both note that separate final submissions were filed on November 14 by the co-prosecutors “reflecting their differing views on whether the [co-investigating judges] should issue an indictment”, or – as argued by National Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang – dismiss the case entirely.

Government opposition to Muth’s Case 003, as well as Case 004, has long dogged the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, with critics saying politics were compromising the ostensibly independent body. Prime Minister Hun Sen has long expressed his wish that no further cases be heard after the conclusion of the current trial of former head of state Khieu Samphan and regime ideologue Nuon Chea.

A former Khmer Rouge Naval commander, Muth was charged in 2015 with a raft of allegations that include genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention.

In her statement, Leang reiterated her position that Muth’s case should be dropped on the grounds that he is neither a senior leader nor “most responsible person”, as defined by the rules limiting the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

She also claimed that “bringing Meas Muth to trial will not serve the interests of justice”.

“Should he be indicted, there will be domestic political disruption and serious potential social unrest,” she said, repeating nearly verbatim the government’s view that cases 003 and 004 should not go forward.

In past speeches, Hun Sen has also claimed that hearing the cases would plunge the country into civil war.

Meanwhile, International Co-Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian argued that Muth is indeed a senior leader and “most responsible” and should therefore be indicted.

According to Koumjian’s submission, Muth was the secretary of Division 164, the largest in the regime’s Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea, numbering some 10,000 personnel. He was also secretary of the Kampong Som Autonomous Sector, in present day Preah Sihanouk province, where he governed over thousands of civilians.

Later, he asserts, Muth would also control Autonomous Sector 505, in what is now Kratie province, and was appointed to the Communist Party of Kampuchea’s all-powerful central committee, whose members included Pol Pot and Nuon Chea, who has already been convicted of crimes against humanity, among other charges.

In 1978, Muth became deputy secretary of the armed forces general staff, giving him “the authority to give orders to all RAK units throughout the entire country”, the statement reads.

The submission also takes aim at the party line that the trial could harm national reconciliation, stability, peace or security. Koumjian points to the absence of negative consequences stemming from cases 001 and 002/01 – which “rather have often been lauded for their many positive effects, including providing the victims of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia some measure of justice”.

He also notes an absence of negative public reaction to investigations into Muth or any of the suspects in cases 003 and 004.

The international prosecutor’s investigation focused on Muth’s purported role in internal purges of military divisions, and further notes Muth allegedly authorised transfers of victims to the notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, among other activities.

Evidence submitted, they argue, shows Muth implemented Khmer Rouge forced marriage policies by having personnel monitor newlyweds to ensure consummation, which was often forced.

“Meas Muth also imposed a rule that newlywed spouses had to sleep together to produce children,” the statement reads.

“Meas Muth’s crimes were not isolated or sporadic but occurred continuously over the entire [Democratic Kampuchea] period as part of a systematic persecution of the population,” it reads, further requesting that the trove of documents and audiovisual materials submitted, as well as the defence’s response, be made public once redacted by the judges.

Reached yesterday, Muth’s defence lawyer, Michael Karnavas, declined to comment on the accusations against his client and said the case was “progressing as expected”.

“The two prosecutors have their different perspectives,” he said.

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