Debate Over Who Can Try Mid-Level KR

Khmer Rouge tribunal Director of Administration Sean Visoth said Wednesday that Cambodia’s na­tional courts could take up prosecution of mid-ranking Khmer Rouge officials, whose crimes fall outside the jurisdiction of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambo­dia.

“The targeted people are only top leaders. The mid-level cadre can be prosecuted by ordinary courts,” Sean Visoth said, speaking at a conference on justice and national reconciliation hosted by the Center for Social Development and Ger­many’s development agency, Deut­scher Entwicklungsdienst.

ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said after the conference that Sean Visoth was “expressing a theoretical possibility rather than an on-going process.”

Jarvis added, by email, “[H]e was specifically thinking of cases such as those relating to the KR attack on the train in 1994, or the 1996 mur­der of deminers, currently in the Phnom Penh court.”

Though most international criminal tribunals have ancillary domestic prosecutions, they seem only a distant possibility in Cambodia.

Cambodian government officials have long maintained that reaching too deeply into the Khmer Rouge movement could undermine Cambodia’s hard-won peace because so many people-including members of the government-were at one time members of the radical communist force.

“As stipulated in the convention the ECCC is intended to bring to trial the “mastermind” of the genocide and all human right violation,” government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith wrote by e-mail Wednesday.

“We do not intend to go deeper, this [is] for the sake of national reconciliation. If you want to go further it means you have to judge all the past three regimes, plus whoever cooperate[d] with the Khmer Rouge after 1979. Nobody wants that,” Khieu Kanharith added.

Pailin Deputy Governor Keut Sothea, a former Khmer Rouge military official, said Sean Visoth’s comment could breed mistrust within Cambodian society. “Khmer will not trust Khmer,” he said.

The tribunal’s UN Public Affairs Officer, Peter Foster, said the ECCC’s jurisdiction is clear, and that the court would continue to pursue those most responsible for Khmer Rouge-era atrocities, irrespective of their specific rank.

“Our mandate is very clear: senior leaders and those most responsible,” Foster said.

“Anyone who falls under that broad mandate can be brought before the ECCC. We are not limited by anything but that broad mandate. That could include mid-level and low-level if they are most responsible. There is no way to tell exactly who will be prosecuted,” he added.

Speaking at the same conference Wednesday, German Ambassador Frank Mann said Germany’s domestic courts spent years prosecuting Nazi criminals after the Nuremberg trials of senior Nazi leaders concluded.

“After the ECCC is over, there is still a lot of scope for possible juridical work on what happened during the Khmer Rouge time,” Mann said.

But many will question whether Cambodia’s much criticized domestic courts, if called upon, could deliver real justice.

“I think the national courts can not try people because of the problem of competence and the problem of independence,” said Thun Saray, president of local rights group Adhoc.

“That’s why we need this hybrid court,” he added.


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