The opposition CNRP announced Tuesday that it had engaged lawyer Richard Rogers, former head of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Defense Support Section, to analyze evidence of alleged crimes committed by the CPP government and decide whether they justify filing a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The move follows a week in which CPP security forces shot dead at least five civilians, injured dozens more, and imprisoned 23 protesters.
“If the Cambodian security forces commit illegal violent acts as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population, this would amount to a crime against humanity,” a statement by the CNRP reads.
“Any person who commits, orders, solicits, induces, or otherwise aids or abets a crime against humanity, would be liable to prosecution before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands,” the CNRP’s statement continues.
Mr. Rogers, who said he and a team of international lawyers have already begun their analysis of alleged crimes committed by the CPP government, said Tuesday that the investigation would include, but not be limited to, the killing of seven civilians by state security forces in the months following July’s disputed national election.
“The underlying criminal acts are likely to include murder, arbitrary imprisonment, forced transfer and persecution on political grounds,” Mr. Rogers said.
“Considering the scale of forced transfer through illegal land-grabbing, there are likely to be tens or even hundreds of thousands of victims. The recent violent attacks on civilian protesters, including killings, are just the tip of the iceberg,” he added.
Mr. Rogers said he believes that alleged crimes committed by the CPP government meet the “high threshold” necessary for the ICC’s prosecutor to open an investigation.
“We are fully aware that the ICC will only consider the most serious cases…. But there is already credible evidence that the Cambodian authorities have actively promoted attacks against civilians,” Mr. Rogers said.
Michael Karnavas, an international lawyer who defended the late Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, said that it was not out of the realm of possibility that the ICC would accept a case against authorities in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s government.
“An ICC investigation is not impossible, though rather improbable,” Mr. Karnavas said.
“The crimes are serious. Whether they rise to the level meriting an ICC investigation remains to be seen,” he said, adding that even if the ICC did go ahead with an inquiry, it would likely be stifled.
“Government cooperation and access to witnesses and evidence will be a challenge for any outside international investigators. Expecting meaningful CPP cooperation with the ICC is ludicrous,” Mr. Karnavas said.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha said during a press conference at party headquarters Tuesday that efforts to launch an international investigation into the CPP’s action would, at the least, serve to remind the government that crimes against its people can be punished.
“If [Mr. Rogers’ team] finds crimes committed against humanity, the lawyers will place a complaint with the ICC,” he said.
“But if they find that the crimes do not have enough ground, it will still make the perpetrators and others be careful and pull back and stop,” he said.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, whose forces shot dead at least five demonstrating garment factory workers on Friday, said he was not concerned by the prospect of an ICC investigation.
“Let them do what they want and do an investigation,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.
“We don’t need to be concerned about this because the authorities just implemented the law and fulfilled their duty to protect the interest of the general public,” he added.
Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, declined to comment on Mr. Rogers’ analysis, but said the government has launched its own investigation into what happened during clashes between police and protesters on Friday.
“A decision was made by the government to open an investigation yesterday,” he said. “[Interior Minister] Sar Kheng will lead the investigation team and prepare a report for the government.”
Mr. Karnavas predicted that any investigation led by the CPP government into its own forces would be fruitless.
“The Cambodian Ministry of Interior should be conducting a credible investigation,” he said.
“However, because of the political nature of the crimes, and the virtual absence of the rule of law in Cambodia, it is naive to expect a proper investigation.”
(Additional reporting by Hul Reaksmey)