International prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have identified additional suspects, but it remains unclear whether Cambodian prosecutors will agree that the new suspects should be investigated, according to officials at the court.
The circumstances raise the possibility that the prosecution’s two sides, UN and Cambodian, may disagree on whom to prosecute next or whether any new suspects should be prosecuted. However, officials said the Cambodian side has yet to express either agreement or opposition to more charges.
Since 2007, the Office of the Co-Prosecutors, which has sole legal authority to initiate the prosecution of crimes allegedly committed by the Democratic Kampuchea regime, has only recommended five individuals for prosecution, all of whom have been arrested and charged by the court’s co-investigating judges.
International Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit was traveling outside of Cambodia on Sunday, while Cambodian Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang declined to comment on the matter, referring questions to public affairs. International and Cambodian court spokesmen said Nov 23 there was no announcement to be made yet.
“What I can tell you is when the prosecutors have information to release, we will release it,” said Cambodian spokesman Reach Sambath.
In June, Petit and Chea Leang appeared to disagree on whether preliminary investigations were under way, with Petit saying in an interview that he intended to name more suspects for prosecution while Chea Leang said she was unaware of any such plan.
In an e-mail this month, Petit said he could not confirm or deny whether prosecutors would make any additional allegations to begin new judicial investigations, known as an “introductory submission.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1999 said Cambodia would try “four or five” Khmer Rouge officials, and government officials have in the past said trying too many Khmer Rouge suspects could damage the hard-won peace achieved when the government negotiated the surrender of the former rebels.
That Cambodian authorities could try to influence the trials for political reasons has been a persistent concern among observers and UN negotiators. First proposed in 2000 as a safeguard against any possible political interference, the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber was established to resolve disputes between co-prosecutors and co-investigating judges. Should a disagreement on whether to proceed arise, an investigation will go ahead unless at least one of the five-judge panel’s two foreign members agrees to halt it.
Heather Ryan, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said Sunday the court had a limited time within which to initiate new proceedings.
“The investigation and prosecution of additional persons is important to the credibility of the court,” she said.
“Since the beginning of this court, there has been a concern about political interference over the number and identity of suspects and we’re looking to the court to demonstrate independence.”
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)