Three Cambodian judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) argued in a recent legal decision that a war crimes suspect should not be arrested because having to appear before the court might humiliate him and affect his “dignity,” a document released Friday shows.
The suspect, Meas Muth, was charged in absentia with war crimes and crimes against humanity in March by Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon after Cambodian judicial police ignored a warrant for his arrest. A second arrest warrant issued in June was also ignored.
According to a September 23 decision published online by the tribunal on Friday, Meas Muth’s lawyers asked the Pre-Trial Chamber—which hears motions against decisions made before a case goes to trial—to order a stay of execution on the second warrant, arguing that arresting him would “infringe his rights to liberty and to a fair trial.”
However, the chamber was unable to come to an agreement on the matter, with Cambodian judges Prak Kimsan, Ney Thol and Huot Vuthy agreeing with the war crimes suspect that he should not be arrested because it would be too embarrassing for him.
“The arrest warrant is a coercive measure to be enforced by judicial police to bring Meas Muth before the International Co-Investigating Judge alone, but not before both Co-Investigating Judges,” they wrote. “This measure, in Cambodian society, is regarded as humiliating and affecting Meas Muth’s honour, dignity and rights substantially and irremediably.”
They added that the Pre-Trial Chamber needed to intervene “to prevent the above mentioned irreparable damage.”
However, the chamber’s two international judges, Olivier Beauvallet and Steven Bwana, both disagreed, writing in a separate decision that the request for a stay did not fall under the Pre-Trial Chamber’s jurisdiction and thus could not be considered. They also argued that arresting Meas Muth would not impair the fairness of proceedings. The Pre-Trial Chamber needs a supermajority to make a decision.
The chamber has frequently split along national-international lines when it comes to the two cases at the ECCC that are opposed by the Cambodian government, known as Case 003 and Case 004, which have languished in the pre-trial phase for six years. Meas Muth is part of Case 003, while two other suspects have been charged in Case 004. Among other crimes, Meas Muth is accused of involvement in the killings of his own soldiers and foreigners captured at sea.
Although he said he was unsurprised by the latest split between national and international judges, Panhavuth Long, a court monitor with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, criticized the Cambodian side’s concern for the dignity of Meas Muth.
“Cambodian people would be dignified if they see that the judges are independent and they work objectively with integrity, and…if the local authorities execute and enforce the court order,” he said. “They don’t have the ability to interpret whether that order is wrong or not legal, the order needs to be enforced.”