Defense, Civil Parties Object to Idea of Dropping Accusations at KRT

Two defense teams at the Khmer Rouge tribunal said this week they oppose a proposal by prosecutors to allow criminal accusations against suspects and accused persons to be dropped.

In separate internal memorandums dated Friday, lawyers for Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan and former navy chief Meas Muth strenuously objected to the proposed rule change, which would allow judges to drop criminal accusations from the court’s three ongoing cases at the discretion of prosecutors.

Kong Sam Onn, Arthur Vercken, and Anta Guisse, who represent Khieu Samphan, pointed out that the rule changes could provide a new mechanism for political interference.

“Cambodian authorities have never hidden their objections to a number of investigations conducted by the court,” the defense team wrote in a Khmer-language memorandum addressed to the court’s Rules and Procedure Committee.

“In particular, investigations tending to affect the high-ranking and powerful always cause tensions. Prime Minister Hun Sen as well as a number of ministers have always openly pressured the U.N. to cease a number of investigations into those who are close to the government.”

U.N. prosecutors independently opened two investigations into five mid-level Khmer Rouge suspects in 2009, over the vociferous objections of Mr. Hun Sen, who said the new cases would lead to civil war.

Since then, the Cambodian government and Cambodian court staff have adamantly opposed continued investigation into alleged war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity committed by the suspects. Both Chea Leang, the national co-prosecutor, and You Bunleng, the national co-investigating judge, have refused to participate in advancing or investigating the controversial cases.

In a separate memo on Friday, Meas Muth’s lawyers, Michael Karnavas and Ang Udom, raised concerns about the legality of the proposed change, noting that there was no precedent in Cambodian law or the tribunal’s own jurisprudence for dropping accusations from an indictment.

They also said allowing accusations to be dropped could infringe on the rights of victims participating in tribunal proceedings, known as civil parties.

Pich Ang, who represents civil parties in Case 002, agreed that his clients would be unhappy about the rule change, which could mean that their grievances are never adjudicated.

“Dropping a certain charge or crime scene could affect civil parties—civil parties would be unhappy about this and it could not be brought into discussion during the trial,” he said. “Reparations could not be claimed.”

Prosecutors initially proposed the rule change in an internal memo on March 4, saying that it was urgent for the Rules and Procedure Committee as well as a plenary session of judges to meet and assess their request immediately. They say that dropping would make it far cheaper and more manageable to deal with the court’s remaining cases.

The court’s judges have not convened for a plenary session since 2010.

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