In a joint statement released Monday, the co-prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal outlined their respective arguments in the pair’s disagreement over whether the court should prosecute additional suspects for crimes committed during Democratic Kampuchea.
Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang takes the view that the tribunal was only meant to handle a small number of trials and that it should focus on the five persons currently detained at the court, the statement said.
“The National Co-Prosecutor believes that these investigations should not proceed on account of (1) Cambodia’s past instability and the continued need for national reconciliation, (2) the spirit of the agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Cambodia…and the spirit of the law that established this Court…and (3) the limited duration and budget of this Court,” the statement read.
International Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit, however, thinks that crimes were committed by people other than the five detained, that these crimes are within the jurisdiction of the court, and that they should therefore be investigated, according to the statement.
“He does not believe that such prosecutions would endanger Cambodia’s peace and stability,” the statement added.
The tribunal’s Pre-Trial Chamber must now arbitrate between the two positions. It would take the agreement of four of the chamber’s five judges to prevent new suspect prosecutions from going ahead.
Petit seems more concerned with objective arguments of law and evidence, while Chea Leang’s arguments focus on “interest of justice,” a term comprising justice for victims, continued peace and other things, said Anne Heindel, a legal adviser at the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
Heindel added that it was appropriate and common, particularly in international courts dealing with major crimes, to forego prosecution of some suspects because of wider issues such as national reconciliation.
“These are larger concerns that are taken into account, the question is, ‘Is [Chea Leang] right that these concerns outweigh the objective concerns?’” Heindel asked.
Chea Leang could not be reached for comment Monday, and spokesman Reach Sambath said he could not interpret her position.
“She links her concerns to those hard times when the negotiations [to establish the court] took place, but that doesn’t mean she leaves behind any evidence the court might find,” Reach Sambath said.
Petit said by telephone Monday that the co-prosecutors’ respective arguments were indeed of different philosophies and it would be up to the court to decide which was more in line with law, the UN-Cambodia agreement, and the role of the tribunal.
There is no deadline for a decision in the court’s rules, but the prosecutors’ work isn’t affected as they keep investigating the ongoing cases in the meantime, Petit said.
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