Arter nearly four years of controversy and stalling, the Khmer Rouge tribunal has made moves to formally inform suspects in government-opposed cases 003 and 004 of the charges against them – a critical step in the momentum of the two cases.
Im Chem, who oversaw the Khmer Rouge regime’s largest irrigation project, told the Post yesterday that five representatives from the court had come to her home last week and read out the case against her.
“I denied all their accusations against me, because I did not kill people like they accused,” Im Chem said. “Their accusations were not true.”
The now deputy commune chief in Oddar Meanchey province said two foreigners and three Cambodians had come to her house unexpectedly and handed her “many many documents”, including a notice that she has the right to “go to Phnom Penh to find a lawyer”.
“I said I don’t need a lawyer and that I would not be going to Phnom Penh,” Im Chem said by phone from her home in Anlong Veng district, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold.
Im Chem, one of three Khmer Rouge cadre suspects in Case 004, said she was surprised by the litany of atrocities she is named as committing during the Khmer Rouge regime because, she said, all she ever did was “urge a group of women who were to plant rice”.
“After I denied all their accusations, they left my home,” she said.
The court was tight-lipped yesterday about the activities of investigators and no official statement or information had been issued by the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges.
“I have received no information [about the notification of suspects],” tribunal legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen said.
Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng told the Post he had no comment on the notification of the suspects and stood by his previous statements in which he has said he does not acknowledge the legal authority of his international counterpart, reserve Co-Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet.
Sources close to the court said Kasper-Ansermet was one of the foreigners who delivered the notifications at the end of February.
Kasper-Ansermet did not respond to requests for comment yesterday.
The two suspects in Case 003, Sou Met and Meas Muth, and the other two suspects in Case 004, Ta An and Ta Tith, could not be reached or declined to comment yesterday.
The Defense Support section of the tribunal likewise had not heard official information about the notification of suspects, however, DSS officer-in-charge Nisha Valabhji said that a charged person could only be questioned in the presence of a lawyer.
“It has been the long-held view of the DSS that the suspects in cases 003 and 004 are entitled to their fundamental right to individual legal representation,” Valabhji said by email.
“Last year DSS made several requests to … represent the general interests of the suspects, but these requests were declined.”
Documentation Centre of Cambodia legal advisor Anne Heindel called the development “significant” and echoed the sentiments of Valabhji that it would be appropriate for lawyers to represent the interests of the suspects.
“Particularly in light of the year that has gone by, with the suspects being contacted by journalists but not the court itself,” Heindel said.
“Their rights have already been prejudiced.”
The acting international co-prosecutor submitted the introductory submissions to the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges in 2008, and the cases have since been embroiled in a political tug-of-war between the UN, which calls for “due process” and the Royal Government of Cambodia, which wants the two cases killed, allegedly for fear of inciting a civil war.
Im Chem herself told the Post in 2009 that she knew she would never see the inside of a courtroom because Prime Minister Hun Sen would not allow any more Khmer Rouge to be arrested and sent to the tribunal.
In 2010, Hun Sen told UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that the two cases would not be “allowed”.
Several senior government ministers have echoed this position.
Ek Tha, of the Council of Minister’s Press and Quick Reaction Unit saidthe government’s position remains unchanged and that it is up to the Supreme Council of Magistracy to approve UN-nominated Kasper-Ansermet before he has any legal authority to act.
UN Special Expert David Scheffer told the Post last week that the UN position is that Kasper-Ansermet “has the authority of a co-investigating judge”.