Investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday announced they had wrapped up their investigation of the court’s third case, in which two revolutionary military commanders are accused of alleged genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.
This step gives prosecutors 15 days to formally ask judges to investigate further. Victims of the regime will also have 15 days to file civil party applications seeking reparations against Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth and air force commander Sou Met.
The court announced the end of the investigation in a terse public statement. “The co-investigating judges today in a public decision concluded the investigations in Case 003 (the Case File containing more than 2,000 pieces of evidence, comprising more than 48,000 pages) and have notified the parties according to rule 66.1,” it said in its entirety.
In contrast, when the investigation of the four senior Khmer Rouge leaders charged in Case 002 ended in January 2010, the court issued a seven-paragraph press release with extensive information on the case, and on how victims could file civil party applications.
Lars Olsen, legal affairs spokesman for the court, emphasized yesterday that the investigation’s conclusion was just “a procedural step.”
But court observers and victims are unlikely to see it that way, as cases 003 and 004 are vehemently opposed by the government and Cambodian court staff have refused to participate in them.
The investigators’ office is winding down its activities and is expected to close at the end of the year, and some UN investigators have already been informed that their contracts will not be renewed.
“If they were pursuing this case, they would have had to provide notice to potential civil parties to give them the opportunity to apply,” said Anne Heindel, a legal adviser to the Documentation Center of Cambodia. “Obviously they have decided to dismiss this case.”
She added that she was concerned by the “sparse information” issued to the public throughout the course of the 16-month investigation.
“I think it’s really troubling…that even now they can’t be clear to the public about what has happened,” she said of yesterday’s statement.
When, earlier this month, activist Theary Seng announced her plans to file a complaint seeking reparations against Sou Met and Meas Muth, the tribunal called her actions “reckless.” Nonetheless, New Zealander Rob Hamill, who lost his brother at S-21 prison, followed suit several days later.
Im Sophea, head of outreach at the court’s Victim Support Section, said yesterday those were still the only two civil party applications that VSS had received. He would not comment on whether the section was prepared to assist victims who might want to file complaints in case 003 over the next two weeks.
Sou Met, Meas Muth and the three suspects being investigated in Case 004 have never been publicly named by the court, and details of their alleged crimes have never been released. This makes it nearly impossible for victims to apply to participate in the cases, as civil parties must prove they were directly harmed by crimes the court is investigating.
What happens next depends on prosecutors, who will have to decide whether they believe the investigation is complete.
“It all comes down to whether or not the co-prosecutors, and particularly the international co-prosecutors, decide that they want to request additional investigation action, if they want to devote the resources to that,” said Ms Heindel.
As Cambodian co-prosecutor Chea Leang has opposed cases 003 and 004 from the start, a disagreement could emerge between her and British co-prosecutor Andrew Cayley over whether to proceed with requests.
“The Office [of Co-Prosecutors] will examine the investigation, and then I will take whatever steps are necessary in accordance with my legal duty under the law and the rules of the court,” Mr Cayley said yesterday.
Ms Leang could not be reached for comment.
Although it is expected that case 004 will soon be concluded as well, Mr Olsen said yesterday he had no information about its progress.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)