Evidence Stage Ends in Khmer Rouge Trial

After two years and more than 180 witnesses, civil parties and experts, evidentiary hearings in the second trial against Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan likely came to a close on Wednesday. And with significant doubts about the prospect of further trials, it may have been the last such hearing the Khmer Rouge tribunal will ever see.

Both prosecutors and defense lawyers said during Wednesday’s hearing that they saw no need to pursue further charges against the pair, despite testimony of crimes allegedly committed at a wide range of security centers during the Pol Pot regime having not been heard at the court.

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Victor Koppe, a defense lawyer for Nuon Chea, listens during a hearing at the Khmer Rouge tribunal last year. (ECCC)

“We think it makes no sense to have a third trial in this case, given that all the legal charges have been covered,” international co-prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian said. “Proceedings have been going on for many years.”

Once a verdict is handed down in the current trial, “there’s still the very strong possibility that there will be an appeal,” he said.

“All of that will, by necessity, delay the ultimate enforcement of the sentence that we now have from Case 002/01, the actual transfer of the accused to a Cambodian detention facility, and we think it simply does not make sense to continually try this case until everyone is deceased,” he said.

Many civil parties—victims of the regime considered to have endured exceptional suffering and who can request collective and moral reparations—would like to see the trial continue for the remaining charges, civil party lawyer Marie Guiraud told the court.

In a rare occurrence, Victor Koppe, a lawyer for Nuon Chea, was in agreement with the prosecution, but used the debate to criticize the court once more for what he perceived as bias among the Trial Chamber judges.

“It will come as no surprise, Mr. President, that we will be arguing in our closing brief and closing submissions that all
judges of this chamber have shown extreme bias in adjudicating the second trial,” Mr. Koppe said.

“If there is to be a third trial—God forbid—there should definitely be other judges appointed, both national and international.”

The Dutch lawyer also pointed out that the Krouch Chhmar security center, which lay in what was then part of Kompong Cham province, was omitted from the civil party’s list of potential crime sites.

The security center was part of the East Zone, an area in which high-ranking government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen and National Assembly President Heng Samrin, operated during their time in the Khmer Rouge. A 2015 Human Rights Watch report links the prime minister to the violent suppression of an uprising of Cham Muslims in Krouch Chhmar district in 1975.

“Crimes committed there would, of course, be crimes for which present highly ranking government officials would be liable, criminally,” Mr. Koppe said.

“So, if…there would be a third trial, we would argue strongly that the Krouch Chhmar security center and the crimes committed allegedly in 1975 in the East Zone would be added to the list of potential crimes.”

The imminent conclusion of the mammoth trial, which included charges of genocide committed against Cham Muslims and ethnic Vietnamese, now leaves the future of the court uncertain.

Unless a final witness is rescheduled by the end of the month, the court will be adjourned until final submission presentations—essentially closing arguments—are made in June, with a verdict expected near the end of the year.

Investigations into all but one suspect in cases 003 and 004 have now concluded. A decision on whether to send Khmer Rouge district chief Im Chaem to trial is expected in the first quarter of the year, and will be a litmus test of the tribunal’s willingness to open new trials.

The court has been dogged by accusations of political interference, however, and many observers are certain that the Cambodian investigating judge would reject future indictments due to the government’s fervent opposition. Mr. Hun Sen has warned that prosecuting suspects beyond Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.

Court monitor Panhavuth Long said it was too early to say whether the tribunal had seen its last witness, but that he foresaw “disagreements” between the international and national investigating judges on whether to send the cases to trial.

That said, he believed that Case 002 had gone some way to achieving justice for millions of the Khmer Rouge’s victims, a fraction of whom remain alive.

“But, as you know, the tribunal is tainted with the political influence and the lack of public information over the investigations,” Mr. Long said.

“I would say that there is a degree where justice has been done, but still the court needs to make more effort for accountability to be regained.”

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