Sou Met, the former Khmer Rouge air force commander accused of—but never charged with—crimes against humanity, homicide and torture, has died of diabetes and kidney failure in Battambang province, a Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) official and a tribunal monitor confirmed Wednesday.
Major General Ek Sam On, deputy commander of RCAF’s Region 5, said the suspect in the government-opposed Case 003 at the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal died in a Battambang district hospital after seeking treatment for a number of ailments and that his funeral was held on June 17.
“He was very sick; he had diabetes and kidney failure. He was cremated in a pagoda in Ratanak commune in Battambang district,” Maj. Gen. Sam On said of the war crimes suspect, who was in his 80s.
“I attended the funeral—he died in the hospital,” he added.
Maj. Gen. Sam On also said that Sou Met needed three transfusions per week, and that his wife and children were with him when he died.
“His funeral was held in the Region 5 headquarters, then there was a procession to the pagoda which took place on Monday last week,” he said.
Sou Met’s death was also confirmed by Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative.
“He already passed away 10 days ago,” he said. “His funeral was organized at the military Region 5 headquarters.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has long been a vocal opponent of cases 003 and 004, and has claimed that prosecuting more people for Khmer Rouge crimes would cause the country to descend into civil war.
Still, the cases continue to be investigated by International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon, without the support of his national counterpart, You Bunleng.
In late February, the impasse between Judge Harmon and Judge Bunleng became even more apparent when they issued a joint statement in which the former said he was pushing ahead with investigations, calling witnesses and civil parties, while the latter insisted that the investigations were done and the case closed.
With Sou Met’s demise, Mr. Panhavuth said simply that “justice delayed is justice denied.”
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Dale Lysak said he could not comment, “because the identity of the suspects is confidential.”
Sou Met was never charged with any of the crimes he is alleged to have committed and did not retain any legal representation.
Michael Karnavas, the former defense lawyer for late Case 002 defendant Ieng Sary and lawyer for Case 003 suspect Meas Muth, said: “Sou Met’s passing away would not necessarily impact [on] the remainder of Case 003.
“Of course, it is difficult to tell because of how the [Office of the Co-Investigating Judges] is currently working.”
Eminent Khmer Rouge historian and author David Chandler said that it was unlikely that a case would ever have proceeded against Sou Met even if he had stayed alive.
“I think there’s heavy evidence [against him], but he was never going to make it,” Mr. Chandler said. “People were pressing for cases for which there would be more direct evidence; trying to get younger people on trial who would have more live testimony that would pin them down to specific crimes,” he added.
“It’s another step, but not a step backwards for the trial, because I don’t think the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] was having much of a chance of getting that across.
“Looking lower down the chain would have been valuable for people who wanted total justice.”
In 2011, a confidential court document that was filed in 2009 was leaked and outlined the crimes alleged to have been committed during the Pol Pot regime by suspects Meas Muth and Sou Met.
The file was also erroneously leaked on the website of the ECCC by court officials in December 2012, but swiftly removed once the problem was identified.
In it, the co-prosecutors outline their case against the two suspects. “From June 1975 until January 1979, Sou Met was the Secretary of Division 502 of the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea (RAK) and commander of the RAK air force,” it says.
“He was also a member of the Assisting Committee of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK), one of the highest ranks within the CPK hierarchy. Finally, he exercised considerable influence within the General Staff, the highest body within the RAK.”
The two men are linked to a dozen crime sites that include the regime’s Kompong Chhnang airfield, the Stung Tauch execution site and the Stung Hav quarry.
In the document, the co-prosecutors say that they believe Sou Met and fellow Case 003 suspect Meas Muth “participated in the perpetration of the crimes…including forced labor, inhumane living conditions, unlawful arrest and detention, physical and mental abuse, torture and killing,” as well as having “participated in a criminal plan to purge the RAK of all undesirable elements, which resulted in at least thousands and quite probably tens of thousands of deaths.”
Dany Long, a researcher with the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he too had heard about Sou Met’s passing and said it would likely impact civil parties in Case 003.
“I regret that the Khmer Rouge tribunal takes a long time to try the former Khmer Rouge leaders, especially in cases 001 and 002.
“In Case 003, they took a long time since 2009 but they are still not finishing the case and now one of the suspects in the Case 003 has passed away. That is the great difficulty…for the victims who waited for a long time for the trial to find justice for them.”
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