Charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, grave breaches of the Geneva Convention and homicide were brought against Yim Tith, alias “Ta Tith”, by international co-investigating judge Michael Bohlander at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday.
Case 004 suspect Ta Tith, now a wealthy businessman, was a mid-level commander during the Democratic Kampuchea regime and is accused of crimes committed at security centres, execution sites and worksites in the Southwest Zone – in what is now Takeo province – as well as in Battambang, Pursat and Banteay Meanchey provinces, formerly part of the Northwest Zone.
Married to Ong Ken, the younger sister of deceased “brother number five” Ta Mok, Tith is the first suspect to be charged by Bohlander, who was appointed in August following the resignation of judge Mark Harmon in July.
Case 004, along with Case 003, has been strongly opposed by the government and the tribunal’s national side. National co-investigating judge You Bunleng did not sign the charges.
Tith is charged with genocide against the Khmer Krom – ethnic Khmers from present-day southern Vietnam – as well as various crimes against humanity, including enslavement, deportation, murder, extermination, imprisonment and the persecution of evacuees, Northwest Zone cadres and their families, Khmer Krom and ethnic Vietnamese.
In 1977 and 1978, Southwest Zone cadres led by Ta Mok and Ta Tith “purged and replaced the existing cadre of the Northwest Zone”, according to a leaked copy of the third introductory submission, the document prosecutors presented to the investigating judges to outline desired allegations against Ta Tith and the other Case 004 suspects.
“As a result of this purge, Ta Tith became the Acting Secretary of the Northwest Zone”, and “had been the Secretary of the Kirivong District of the Southwest Zone in 1976 and 1977”.
According to the document, as secretary of Kirivong district, Tith allegedly oversaw the killing of “as many as 16,000” people at the Wat Pratheat security centre, where he allegedly knew of or may have given orders to kill, torture and mutilate prisoners.
ECCC legal communications officer Lars Olsen confirmed that Tith was charged unilaterally by Bohlander, but said that to his knowledge, no arrest warrant was issued.
According to Olsen, now that Tith is charged, he and his lawyers have access to the case file, allowing for Tith to “potentially make some investigative requests”.
“There is not a presumption of trial just because someone has been charged,” Olsen added, explaining that the case must reach the end of the investigation phase before the decision to go to trial is made.
David Scheffer, the UN’s special expert on the tribunal, expressed a similar sentiment in an email yesterday, stating that “significant progress is being made in cases 003 and 004”, although “any closing order relating to either case is not expected for many months”.
However, cases 003 and 004 have long been publicly opposed by the government, with Prime Minister Hun Sen going as far as to say that pursuing them may spark a civil war.
The charges come a day after a meeting between Scheffer and Deputy Prime Minister Sok An in which the progress, outcomes and funding of the ECCC were discussed.
According to a joint statement by Scheffer and An, currently, 62 per cent of the ECCC’s 2016 budget is accounted for in donations, but “further contributions are urgently required to fulfil the financial needs of the court”.