The Khmer Rouge tribunal announced yesterday that it has severed the case of accused war criminal Im Chaem from the rest of Case 004, a development that could lead to a formal indictment, but also raises the possibility of Chaem’s case being dropped.
While the judicial investigation against Chaem finished in December last year, the investigation against the other suspects in Case 004 – Ao An and Yim Tith – is still ongoing.
“The severance was ordered because of the charged person’s right to a determination of the charges brought against her without undue delay,” a statement released by the court yesterday said.
Dealing with Chaem’s case separately would allow for the proceedings against her to be brought to a “timely conclusion” while investigations into the remainder of Case 004 continued.
Long Panhavuth, a longtime court observer with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said that separating Chaem’s case into Case 004/01 meant the court could issue an indictment to Chaem individually.
“They don’t need to wait until the investigation is finished for the two other suspects of Case 004,” he said.
If there was indeed sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations, then there would be an indictment, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said yesterday. However, a dismissal could also occur if the investigation failed to meet certain criteria, such as sufficient evidence, or if the alleged crimes do not fall within the jurisdiction of the ECCC.
“It also depends on personal jurisdiction,” Olsen went on to say.
Personal jurisdiction refers to an aspect of the law under which the court was established, which stated that the body was only to try “senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those who were most responsible” for the regime’s alleged crimes.
The question of whether Chaem met either of those criteria for prosecution was raised in the notice announcing the conclusion of the investigation against her last year.
In that announcement, the co-investigating judges said they had “requested submissions from the parties on whether Im Chaem should be considered a ‘senior leader of Democratic Kampuchea’ or among ‘those who were most responsible’”.
According to Heather Ryan, a court observer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, “That the co-investigating judges asked that question means they have some doubts about that.”
Speaking yesterday, Ryan noted that both the notice in December last year and yesterday’s severance order were signed by both the national and international judges, a significant fact given that national investigating judge You Bunleng had previously said that the case against Chaem should be dismissed.
“Here he is, after not participating in the investigation for the last several years . . . agreeing to sign a document closing the investigation and asking the question about Im Chaem being a person most responsible,” she said.
In the past, Bunleng has refused to sign off on investigations and has vocally opposed cases 003 and 004 going forward. His opposition to the controversial cases is in line with the views of the government at large, with Prime Minister Hun Sen having suggested that trying the cases would plunge the country into civil war.
Im Chaem was allegedly a district secretary in the Northwest Zone, and was charged in absentia on March 3 last year with homicide and crimes against humanity including murder, enslavement and imprisonment allegedly committed at the Spean Sreng worksite and at the Phnom Trayoung security centre, the latter also carrying charges of extermination and persecution on political grounds.
The charges were issued unilaterally by former international co-investigating judge Mark Harmon, who resigned on July 7 last year for personal reasons.
At the time she was charged, 72-year-old Chaem asked, “Why should I be worried about the charges against me?”
“I am not wrong, the person who charged me is wrong.”