In a split with their international counterparts, the Cambodian half of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s prosecution team yesterday announced they believe former high-ranking cadre Im Chaem should not be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, illustrating a long-standing division in the court’s approach to further cases.
The split was made evident in a statement released yesterday in which prosecutors announced they had made their final submissions to the co-investigating judges on October 27 and offered summaries of their findings in Chaem’s case, known as Case 004/01.
In the statement, the national prosecutor argued Chaem should not be prosecuted, saying she was “neither a ‘senior leader’ of the Democratic Kampuchea regime nor among those ‘most responsible’ for the crimes committed”, and therefore outside the court’s jurisdiction.
The international prosecutor, however, begged to differ, arguing that while Chaem was not a high-ranking member of the Khmer Rouge inner circle or a zone leader, her leadership positions at the district level still meant she was one of those “most responsible” for crimes committed under the regime.
“Im Chaem held positions of responsibility that enabled her to make a significant contribution to crimes committed in areas where she exercised authority,” the international co-prosecutor’s submissions read.
Chaem, it continues, was district secretary in Koh Andet and given leadership positions in the Southwest and Northwest Zones by Ta Mok and Pol Pot, “demonstrating her close links to the highest levels”.
The international co-prosecutor further argued that she helped establish one of the largest security offices under the regime, the Phnom Trayoung security office, and oversaw three others.
“Thousands of individuals were arbitrarily arrested, detained and executed in these and other locations under her responsibility,” they wrote, adding Chaem is allegedly responsible for crimes including murder, extermination, enslavement, torture, forced marriage and rape.
“[She] is criminally responsible in that she was the superior of perpetrators, knew about the crimes and failed to take reasonable measures to prevent the crimes or punish those responsible.”
Chaem’s lawyer, Wayne Jordash, did not respond to requests for comment as of press time.
Her case is now in the hands of the co-investigating judges, who are expected to issue a closing order by March next year. That document will either indict her or dismiss the charges.
But the government – and Prime Minister Hun Sen himself – has long made known its position that the tribunal should conclude with the current Case 002 against the Khmer Rouge’s most senior surviving leaders, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. That position has been echoed in the past by the court’s national investigating judge, You Bunleng, who has refused to sign off on charges in Case 004, which also involves Ao An and Yim Tith, and in Case 003, involving Meas Muth, leading experts to question whether the cases would fold under government pressure.
For tribunal observer Long Panhavuth, the latest disagreement between the Cambodian and international prosecutors came as no surprise.
“Whether or not this is based on good legal reasoning, the case is already tainted by political influence and the lack of public information,” he said.
While Panhavuth said he welcomed the statement from the court, he urged it to do more to “revitalise the credibility of the investigative process”.
“I think the court does not operate in a vacuum, they need to be accountable to the victim and to the accused,” he said.
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he had almost daily requests for documents related to Chaem’s case and urged the court to look at the evidence.
“From the beginning, we knew the court could not be perfect, but we knew it would give some closure to the victims,” he said.
“For survivors like me, we support this tribunal, because we want to see a final judgement, not these disputes.”