THE July 18 trial and acquittal of former Khmer Rouge commander Chhouk Rin has come
under sharp criticism from human rights groups, lawyers and diplomats.
Rin was charged with the 1994 kidnapping and murder of three Western backpackers
traveling on a train to Sihanoukville. At least 13 Cambodians were killed in the
train ambush that Rin initially admitted responsibility for. The three Westerners,
Briton Mark Slater, 28, Frenchman Jean-Michel Braquet, 27 and Australian David Wilson,
29, were held hostage for three months before they were killed and buried in shallow
Rin later retracted his confession regarding the train ambush and in the court room
he claimed he was lying wounded in a hospital during the attack on the train and
therefore unable to participate. Several witnesses - most of them from Rin's home
base on Phnom Vour - testified in his favor.
But in the end, their testimonies seemed to be irrelevant, since Rin was let go on
the basis of a 1994 law outlawing the KR. The law stipulates that anybody who defected
within a six month period of its promulgation would be granted amnesty, and Rin allegedly
defected during this period.
Lawyer for the Wilson family, William Wodrow, called the trial "an exercise
"It was a well-rehearsed process. In the end the judge - like a master magician
- pulled a rabbit out of the hat and acquitted Rin on the basis of the 1994 law.
We are very disappointed," Wodrow said.
Director Thun Saray of the human rights organization ADHOC pointed to two trial irregularities.
"First: Why did they arrest Rin if they didn't have any evidence against him,
anyway. And second: Why did Nuon Paet not testify in court. The charges against Rin
was largely based on what Paet said at his own trial last year, so why did he not
testify this time," Saray asked.
Paet was sentenced to life imprisonment last year for his involvement in the fatal
Director of the Cambodian Defenders Project, Sok Sam Oeun, finds the acquittal of
Rin on the basis of the 1994 law dubious.
"It is the rule of bad law. It does not look fair and maybe that law should
be reviewed and amended," Oeun said.
On July 18, the judge Thong Ol only took some 15 minutes of deliberation before he
returned to the court room with the three-page typewritten verdict. The acquittal
was met with shock and disbelief from the victim's families and cheers from Rin's
Shortly before, Mark Slater's mother, Dorothy Slater had said that she didn't believe
Rin would get a lifetime sentence like Paet.
"But I hope he gets at least 10 or 15 years. Anything less than that is not
acceptable," Slater said.
A few hours later, Slater and David Wilson's father, Peter Wilson, were asking themselves
it they had the heart to keep pursuing the case after the day's set-back.
"I have lived with this for years now. Every time there is an end in sight,
something comes up and spoils it. I really don't know if I can go on," Wilson
However, a day later Australia decided to pursue the matter and all three families,
supported by their embassies had decided to appeal.