The investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal released a list of 30 crime sites connected to the court’s controversial fourth case yesterday, but said there are “serious doubts” as to whether the case’s suspects fall within their jurisdiction.
The list includes security centres, execution sites and forced labour areas in Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom provinces, then part of the Khmer Rouge’s Central Zone; Pursat, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces, then under the Northwest Zone; and Takeo province, then in the Southwest Zone.
Co-investigating judges You Bunleng and Siegfried Blunk said they had not previously released the list of crime sites in Case 004 “because, unlike in Case 002, there are serious doubts whether the suspects are ‘most responsible’,” referring to the tribunal’s mandate to try only “senior leaders” of the Khmer Rouge and those “most responsible” for the crimes of the regime between 1975 and 1979.
“If the court had no jurisdiction, it would be inappropriate to encourage civil party applications further to the 200 already received in this case, as this could raise expectations which might not be met later on,” the judges said.
The judges’ statement was apparently sparked by a call from international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley, who on Friday pointed out that the judges were legally obliged to keep victims informed “throughout the proceedings” so they could apply for civil party status.
Cayley said yesterday he was “relieved” and called the judges’ publication of crime sites an “enormous step” for victims and the court.
“The whole purpose of this institution is to allow the people to be a part of it, and if the people don’t know what was actually proposed for investigation, they can’t participate, and that’s a problem,” Cayley said.
But the judges’ statement that there were “serious doubts” about the court’s jurisdiction over the Case 004 suspects raised alarm among observers.
The government has opposed prosecutions in Case 003, which involves two former Khmer Rouge military commanders, and Case 004, which involves a trio of mid-level cadres.
Anne Heindel, a legal advisor at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the judges’ doubts about the suspects were “at odds with the jurisprudence of all international courts that have applied these standards”. Heindel said any decision by the judges that the suspects were outside the court’s jurisdiction would be viewed as “political”, and suggested such a ruling could lead to blatant inconsistencies with the court’s own jurisprudence.
The tribunal’s Supreme Court Chamber will issue a decision in the appeal of Tuol Sleng jailer Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, who argued that he did not fall within the court’s jurisdiction as one of those “most responsible”.
“It would be unfathomable for the [Supreme Court] Chamber to find that Duch falls within the jurisdiction of the court as one who is most responsible for the crimes of the KR era and the co-investigative judges to use the same criteria to find that the suspects in Case 004 do not,” she said.
Civil party lawyer Silke Studzinsky yesterday welcomed the publication of the crime sites, but said the judges’ statement “seems to rather to discourage victims to apply”.
“It is not a secret that cases 003 and 004 are political cases,” she said.
“I will ask my clients ... in this political situation if they want to apply, but not to give them any hope that the law would be stronger than politics,” she explained.