The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected Chhouk Rin’s final appeal in absentia against his conviction for his role in the killings of three Western backpackers following a 1994 train hijacking in Kampot province.
Announcing the verdict, Presiding Judge Khim Ponn ordered the former Khmer Rouge commander to be arrested and imprisoned for life.
“The judgment of the Appeals Court was correct,” Khim Ponn said, referring to that court’s upholding of Chhouk Rin’s life sentence in November 2003.
In a statement read by a court official, Chhouk Rin, who was not present at the hearing, denied responsibility for the hijackings, detentions and deaths of the three men. Chhouk Rin’s lawyer Put Theavy, said he did not want to attend because he was very ill.
Australian David Wilson, 29, French national Jean Michel-Braquet, 27, and Briton Mark Slater, 28, were executed about two months after the July 26, 1994, train attack.
“If the court charges me like this, the court must charge all other former Khmer Rouge soldiers who are living in the Koh Slah area [in Kampot], Kompong Speu, Samlot, Pailin, Malai and Anlong Veng,” Chhouk Rin said in the statement.
“If the court finds out that I was involved in this case, please court, execute me in front of national and international [observers]” he added.
Although Chhouk Rin appealed for amnesty under a law passed in 1994 that offered protection from prosecution for lower-ranking Khmer Rouge defectors, the court ruled against him, saying the hijacking took place after the law was implemented.
Jean-Claude Braquet, father of Jean-Michel, chided Chhouk Rin for not attending the Supreme Court hearing.
“I want Chhouk Rin to show up and explain to the court [what happened],” Braquet said.
Braquet welcomed the verdict, saying the case “has allowed me to love Cambodia and Cambodians.”
“Justice has been done,” he told reporters outside the court. “My son, wherever he is, must think the same thing.”
Braquet has repeatedly visited Cambodia to attend hearings concerning his son’s death and will seek $450,000 in compensation from Chhouk Rin, Braquet’s lawyer, Lim Eng Ratanak said.
George Cooper, a legal adviser attending the hearing on behalf of Dorothy Slater, the mother of the British victim, said she is seeking $25,000 compensation from Chhouk Rin.
That amount is an average of the figures asked in compensation by the families of the Cambodians killed in the train ambush.
Slater picked the figure “to say her son’s life is worth the same value as the other people killed,” Cooper said.
Lawyer Put Theavy said his client cannot afford to pay compensation.
“He’s borrowed money from me. He’s very poor, you should think about charity,” Put Theavy said.
Australian and British embassy officials welcomed the verdict.
“We appreciate the commitment of the Cambodian authorities in bringing the perpetrators to justice in this long-running and tragic case,” Guy Ruediger, first secretary at the Australian Embassy, told reporters outside the court.
The decision will likely be a delight to the families of Slater and the other victims, Gary Benham, vice consul at the British Embassy said.
The ruling bodes well for the upcoming Khmer Rouge tribunal, Helen Jarvis, the government’s adviser on the tribunal, said.
“We’ve seen [Chhouk Rin’s] case go through several years, the judges and lawyers have prepared themselves seriously, and I think the government has taken on their responsibility” to put Khmer Rouge officials on trial, Jarvis said outside the court.
Not everyone welcomed the decision. Linda McKinney, who has known Chhouk Rin for 10 years, said she was saddened by the decision and questioned the influence that the embassies may have exerted on the verdict.
McKinney said she had seen evidence that the embassies “at every step of this long legal process insist[ed] on convictions before the evidence was even considered.”
“When [foreigners] insist that basic principles of justice are not met, we do nothing to contribute to the legal reform that Cambodia so desperately needs,” McKinney said.
The hearing should have been a search for truth, she said, “not only for [Chhouk] Rin but also for the families that lost their sons.”
Cooper said he was uncertain whether Chhouk Rin will now be arrested. “I don’t think [the chances are] way better than 50 percent,” he said.
Put Theavy said he last saw his client in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.
Repeated phone calls to Chhouk Rin went unanswered Wednesday evening, but his wife, Yem Sav, said by telephone from Phnom Voar, where the hostages were held, that he is in Phnom Penh and is very sick.
“He will die [in Phnom Voar]. He does not want to die in prison,” she said.