The case against the Khmer Rouge regime’s four most senior remaining leaders was yesterday split into separate trials, a move observers welcomed as expediating justice – albeit in a perhaps compromised form – before the accused die.
The decision from the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Pre Trial Chamber, made public at 5.30pm just before the Pchum Ben holiday, severs Case 002 into discrete trials addressing different aspects of the Khmer Rouge regime that will be tried in chronological order.
“Separation of proceedings will enable the chamber to issue a verdict following a shortened trial, safeguarding the fundamental interest of victims in achieving meaningful and timely justice, and the right of all accused in Case 002 to an expeditious trial,” the decision read.
The Khmer Rouge’s “Brother No 2” Nuon Chea, Defence Minister Ieng Sary, nominal head of state Khieu Samphan and Social Action Minister Ieng Thirith all stand accused of crimes against humanity, genocide, grave breaches of the Geneva convention and crimes under the 1956 Penal Code.
Yesterday’s decision did not detail which criminal acts would be the subject of the separate Case 002 trials, nor the number of trials it would be split into.
However, the Trial Chamber could choose to follow the 2010 indictment of the Co-Investigating Judges on the key allegations against the four accused. This would mean there would be five trials in Case 002, covering the Khmer Rouge’s reign from April 1975 to January 1979.
Forced movement during the evacuation of Phnom Penh, abuses and starvation at worksites and cooperatives, torture and executions at security centres, genocide against Cham muslims and Vietnamese and the final forced movement of the population during the regime’s imminent decline would likely constitute the five trials.
Public concern that the four defendants could die before the survivors of their brutal regime receive justice for any of these crimes was stoked last month when health expert John Campbell told a court hearing Ieng Thirith was no longer mentally fit for trial.
Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said breaking the charges up to speed up the process would lead to a greater chance that the accused would face some kind of justice, even if they died later on in the trial.
“I guess it’s an exercise of weighing competing interests. The question is, is it better to see some form of justice in a shorter period of time that only involves some allegat-ions? I think the answer to that has to be yes,” she said.
Managing the expectat-ions of civil-party groups, in particular Cham Muslims and the Vietnamese, would be important because they might be dismayed that their cases would now not be tried until later, Duffy said.
“I think the most important thing to think about now is that the impact of this decis-ion is properly transmitted to the people in this case – and that’s Cambodians in general, the Cambodian public, but also the civil parties that have a direct stake in this.”
Randle DeFalco, a legal adviser at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the case of Slobodan Miloševic, who died in his cell in 2006 while being tried for similar crimes in the former Yugo-slavia, had probably served as a lesson to the court.
“I think Ieng Thirith sounded the alarm bells, but it’s different when one of them falls off the cliff [dies],’’ De Falco said.
“If this case takes another two years, you can easily imagine one of them dying. They had the same problem in Yugoslavia.”
International deputy co-prosecutor William Smith said he could not comment on the decision yesterday, as it had been released late and the prosecution team had not had time to read it.
Nisha Valabhji, officer in charge of the Defence Supp-ort Section at the court, also said her team had not had adequate time to analyse the decision.
Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said yesterday severing Case 002 could not be appealed against under the tribunal’s internal rules.