Former Khmer Rouge official Yim Tith, more commonly known as Ta Tith, was on Wednesday charged with crimes including genocide in Case 004 at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
Ta Tith, who stands accused of a slew of crimes allegedly committed during his time as acting secretary of the Khmer Rouge’s Northwest Zone, is the first suspect to be charged by International Co-Investigating Judge Michael Bohlander since he took over from Judge Mark Harmon in August.
Along with genocide against the Khmer Krom, an ethnic minority from Southern Vietnam, Ta Tith is accused of a wide range of crimes against humanity including murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture and forced marriage, according to a statement released by the ECCC.
Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the tribunal, said Ta Tith traveled from his home in Battambang province to face charges at the court on Wednesday.
“He was charged in person…at the court,” Mr. Olsen said. “After he was charged, he returned home with his lawyers and they now have full access to the case file and they can participate fully in the case.”
Mr. Olsen said he did not know whether an arrest warrant had been issued for Ta Tith.
The reclusive former cadre is believed to be responsible for crimes at more than 40 sites across the country. The alleged atrocities predominantly took place in the Northwest Zone, but also at sites in the Southwest Zone including the notorious Kraing Ta Chan security center in Takeo province, where an estimated 15,000 people perished.
Ta Tith is the fourth Khmer Rouge official to be charged in the government-opposed cases 003 and 004. Cambodian police have refused to execute arrest warrants issued by Judge Harmon last year for suspect Meas Muth, the Khmer Rouge navy commander, and Im Chaem, a former district chief.
Ta An—a deputy secretary in the regime’s Central Zone who stands accused alongside Ta Tith of running a network of security centers responsible for the deaths of some 140,000 people—has also been charged in Case 004.
Ta Tith made headlines in 2011 when reports emerged that American actress Angelina Jolie-Pitt had purchased land from the former Khmer Rouge official for her charitable foundation in Battambang.
Contacted after the charges were announced, Krom Mong, chief of Ta Tith’s home village of Toek Sap in Ratanak Mondol district’s Phlov Meas commune, said the former Khmer Rouge official rarely socialized with other locals.
“He is very old—he is about 82 or 83 years old—and he has problems with his eyes,” Mr. Mong said. “He is living with his wife and he has about 4 to 5 hectares of land.”
“He often stays at home and does not come outside to visit his neighbors,” he said, adding that Ta Tith moved to the village in 1998 after Khmer Rouge forces laid down their weapons in Samlot district.
“I can’t comment on him because I don’t know and didn’t see what he did in the past,” the village chief added.
Neither Ta Tith nor his lawyers could be reached on Wednesday.
Panhavuth Long, a court monitor with the Cambodian Justice Initiative, applauded the decision to charge Ta Tith, but said the likelihood of arrest or prosecution was low given ongoing government interference at the court.
“I would say that the elephant in the room is that the U.N. and the government need to address as soon as possible, or immediately, the political influence, as well as the non-cooperation from the Cambodian side.”
Despite the obstacles facing the court, Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said the charges against Ta Tith show that the tribunal is still seeking justice for the crimes committed during the Democratic Kampuchea period.
“Despite all the storms, the floods, the court still stands and justice still stands, and that is something that perhaps is hopeful for the future of Cambodia.”