Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Im Chaem filing short on reasoning



Im Chaem filing short on reasoning

Im Chaem, an alleged district secretary under the Khmer Rouge, is photographed at her residence in Oddar Meanchey in 2014.
Im Chaem, an alleged district secretary under the Khmer Rouge, is photographed at her residence in Oddar Meanchey in 2014. Charlotte Pert

Im Chaem filing short on reasoning

Investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday released their highly anticipated – and heavily redacted – reasoning for throwing out the case against former Khmer Rouge district secretary Im Chaem.

In February, the judges took the unprecedented step of dismissing Chaem’s case – in which she stood accused of a slew of crimes against humanity including murder, extermination and enslavement – deeming her “neither a senior leader” nor one of those “most responsible” for the crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge, and therefore outside of the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

However, in a statement accompanying the filing, the court notes that “a dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction does not equate to a statement that no crimes were committed by a charged person”.

Chaem’s case – along with those of Ao An, Yim Tith and Meas Muth – have long been publicly opposed by the government over the objections of observers, with Prime Minister Hun Sen even warning civil war could break out should the cases be tried.

Yesterday’s filing acknowledges Chaem was a district secretary and was later relocated to the Northwest Zone in 1977 to replace a purged cadre, and also notes her close relationship with Khmer Rouge “butcher” Ta Mok. Heavy redactions, however, strip out the entirety of the co-investigators’ reasons for why she was not viewed as one of those most responsible for the atrocities.

The decision noted the prevailing attitude towards the Khmer Rouge and the overwhelming pressure to try Chaem, but co-investigators refused to be swayed by it. Her case – occurring more than 30 years after the events – was emblematic of the need for “judicial restraint” given the media pressure and high public expectation, they argue.

“In scenarios of this kind the guilt of the suspects, charged persons and accused often seems beyond debate . . . and the judicial proceedings are not infrequently expected simply to attach the seal of official approval and confirmation to the pre-existing general view of history,” the decision read.

The decision recognised the defence’s view that “the charges they have to defend and their legal content often have the appearance and nature of moving targets”, but was not persuaded when they played the gender card and claimed Chaem, as a woman, would be “unlikely” to play a significant role in security matters.

The decision clarified that it gave greater weight to evidence produced by the court rather than out-of-court statements, and highlighted at times small discrepancies in DC-Cam reports of the number of people killed in security centres, potentially under Chaem’s supervision as Preah Net Preah District Secretary.

The decision – and the focus on numbers of deaths – was disheartening for DC-Cam director and Khmer Rouge victim Youk Chhang. “It’s hard for any victim to accept the conclusion of the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges,” he said. “It makes us wonder if the lives of a few are not significant or are not a matter of justice.”

He said there was “overwhelming” evidence for the crimes and suffering inflicted by the regime, and argued that the court was “corrupting justice”. In seeking to prove only what their special tribunal could establish, the court was “denying the historical facts as a grey area”.

The decision highlighted that no other Cambodian court would be able to try Chaem for the atrocities of the regime.

“An argument might therefore be made that we should counter the obvious effect of this view and exercise our discretion as broadly as possible in favour of finding of personal jurisdiction in order to avoid an unwanted impunity gap. We disagree with that reasoning,” the decision read.

“[The Democratic Kampuchea] period has left major trauma in Cambodian society and there were thousands of potential perpetrators still alive . . . There is thus a massive impunity gap for crimes committed during the DK . . . however, this finding must have no policy impact on our exercise of discretion regarding personal jurisdiction.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Locations shut, dozens more Covid-19 positive

    The Ministry of Health has closed 23 locations in connection with the February 20 community transmission of Covid-19 and summoned for testing anyone who had direct contact with affected people and places. The number of discovered related infections has risen to 76, including 39 women. In a press release,

  • Kingdom's Covid cluster cases jump to 194

    The Ministry of Health on February 25 confirmed 65 new cases of Covid-19, with 58 linked to the February 20 community transmission. The latest cluster cases include nine Vietnamese nationals, five Cambodians, one each from Korea, Singapore and Japan, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total number

  • Cambodia's Covid cluster cases rise to 137

    The Ministry of Health on February 24 recorded 40 more cases of Covid-19, with 38 linked to the February 20 community transmission. Of the 40, two are imported cases involving Chinese passengers. The 38 include two Vietnamese nationals and one Cambodian, with the rest being Chinese. This brings the total cases

  • Covid cluster raises alarm, health bodies urge vigilance

    The Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia have expressed great concern over the February 20 cluster transmission of Covid-19 in the community. Both entities appealed for vigilance and cooperation in curbing further spread of the virus. Ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said

  • PM confirms third Covid-19 community transmission

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on February 20 announced the Kingdom's third outbreak of Covid-19 community transmission after 32 people tested positive in just over 10 hours. Addressing the public from his residence after an emergency meeting, Hun Sen said: "I dub it February 20 Community Event, in which 32 cases

  • Cambodia to make auto-rickshaws

    Locally-assembled electric auto-rickshaws could hit the Cambodian market as soon as early in May after the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC) gave the greenlight to an investment project at the weekend. According to a CDC press release, it will issue a final registration