Judicial police ignored an arrest warrant for former Khmer Rouge navy commander and accused war criminal Meas Muth, putting the government in breach of the rules of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), declassified documents released by the tribunal Wednesday show.
Along with former district commander Im Chaem, Meas Muth was also charged in absentia with crimes against humanity in March. The failure of the government and the U.N. to secure the pair’s arrest—forcing the judge to issue charges in absentia—came under heavy criticism from rights groups.
Speculation was rife at the time that the ECCC had issued arrest warrants and that judicial police had refused to execute them, but there was no official confirmation.
On Wednesday, the Khmer Rouge tribunal released previously classified documents, including the arrest warrant for Meas Muth—dated December 10, 2014—and International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon’s decision to charge him in absentia, which details the former navy chief’s refusal to heed a November 26 summons and the non-cooperation of the judicial police.
The decision states that on December 19, a judicial police representative said he was unable to give a “reliable estimate” for when the warrant would be executed and that the final decision rested with the ECCC’s Security Commission. A letter to the commission went unanswered, it says, and a February 18 deadline to bring Meas Muth before the tribunal passed.
“The International CIJ [Co-Investigating Judge] is satisfied that Meas Muth is not in hiding; that the Judicial Police know where Meas Muth resides; that the Judicial Police have the material means to execute the Warrant; and that they have failed to discharge their responsibilities as mandated by the ECCC Agreement, ECCC Law, and the Internal Rules,” the decision says.
The document also states that between September 15 last year and March 3 this year, when Meas Muth and Im Chaem were charged, the tribunal had been requesting updates on the execution of an arrest warrant for a second, unnamed suspect.
Mao Chandara, chief of security at the ECCC, claimed he only received the arrest warrant a week ago.
“It does not mean we have ignored the order to implement the arrest warrant, but our officials went down [to Meas Muth’s village in Battambang province] to study the social impact, the security and the opinion of the people,” General Chandara said. “So when they come back, we will do an evaluation of their study.”
Asked if judicial police would then arrest Meas Muth, Gen. Chandara replied: “I cannot say right now.” He declined to answer further questions.
Meas Muth—who among other crimes is accused of purging his own soldiers and killing foreigners captured at sea—said after being charged that he was more “concerned with planting my corn and cassava” than the actions of the tribunal. He denies the charges against him.
Im Chaem is accused of coordinating purges and executions in the Northwest Zone and faces charges for crimes she allegedly committed at a security center and worksite, all of which she denies.
Investigations in the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s cases 003 and 004—which deal with crimes committed under Pol Pot by cadre who were not members of the highest echelon of the regime—began in 2009 and have long been resisted by the government, with even Prime Minister Hun Sen vocalizing his opposition to the cases.
Judge Harmon has been investigating the cases alone because his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, has refused to assist. Cambodian staff at the tribunal have followed the lead of the national judge.
In a letter published by Thai newspaper The Nation on June 4, then-Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Koung denied that Mr. Hun Sen and the government had meddled in the tribunal’s work on cases 003 and 004.
“As a matter of fact, the ECCC judges have invited four suspects for questioning only—one for Case No 003 and three for Case No 004,” Mr. Koung wrote. “So far, no arrest warrants have been issued for these people.”
The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s current spokesman, Chum Sounry, said he could not comment on his predecessor’s letter because he had not seen it, but reiterated the government’s public position on the tribunal.
“The position of the Cambodian government is clear: not to interfere in the work of the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” he said.
Another decision released by Judge Harmon on Wednesday shows that the previously classified documents were made public after Meas Muth’s defense team requested the declassification of all submissions they had made to the court before he was publicly named as a suspect.
Judge Harmon ruled that all of the documents should be released so the public could peruse them in their “full and proper context.”