In a pair of decisions rendered Friday morning, judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal ruled 86-year-old Brother Number Two Nuon Chea fit to stand trial and kept the scope of the current case against him and former head of state Khieu Samphan identical to what they had set previously.
Judges also announced that 11th-hour funds had come through for the cash-strapped national side, averting a large-scale strike planned for today. A spokesman for the UN later said the funds had been loaned from the international side of the court.
Last month, the court’s highest body ordered the Trial Chamber to reconsider its highly criticised decision to sever Case 002 into a series of mini-trials, saying it lacked reason and erred in law. Raising concerns that judges operated beyond their discretion when they divided the indictment shortly before proceedings began in 2011, the Supreme Court Chamber ordered that input be sought from all parties. During several days of hearings, the prosecution and defence sparred over the scope, with the latter calling for the case to be heard in full and the former asking that S-21, a crime site more representative of the charges against the accused, be added to the mini-trial.
At Friday’s hearing, Trial Chamber President Nil Nonn announced the scope of Case 002/01 would be confined “to charges related to forced movement of population, phases 1 and 2, and executions at Tuol Po Chrey”.
The parameters are the same as those issued before the Supreme Court Chamber ruling, and the failure to ultimately expand Case 002/01 disappointed court monitors and the prosecutors.
“I always felt that the victims would be better served by including a reasonably representative example of the most serious criminal episodes of the time − mass killing − in Case 002,” said international co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley, adding that it was difficult to comment before seeing the written decision.
Speaking for less than 20 minutes, Nonn issued only brief oral summaries of the decisions, saying the full rulings would be forthcoming.
Long Panhavuth, a program officer at the Cambodian Justice Initiative, said the ruling appeared to be a case of the Trial Chamber looking to shore up their legal reasoning more than anything else.
“I think it is sad … The Trial Chamber just did everything to justify their [previous] decision of the severance without taking into account the best interests of the accused and victims.”
Likely, said Panhavuth, the judges were concerned with the very real health problems of Nuon Chea, as well as budgetary woes. However, “that doesn’t preclude the Trial Chamber from staging a fuller case against Khieu Samphan.”
“I hoped that they would be more creative to ensure justice is served.”
Nuon Chea, who has remained largely bedridden for the past several months, was absent from Friday’s hearing due to on going health concerns.
Despite his chronic heart ailments, back problems and hypertension, doctors last Monday testified that Nuon Chea was both mentally and physically fit to stand trial. His lawyers had asked that he not be ordered to participate until his conditions were fully treated.
“Not withstanding the advanced age and frailty of accused and the accused’s precarious physical health, the testimony of the medical experts clearly indicated that accused remains capable of participating in his own defence,” Judge Nonn announced Friday morning, before confirming its earlier ruling that the octogenarian remains fit to stand trial.
Hearings will resume on April 8.