Prosecutors at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have proposed a rule change that would allow judges to reduce the scope of the court’s three ongoing cases, according to an interoffice memorandum obtained this week.
The new rule, if passed, would allow trial judges to shed a number of outstanding criminal accusations against the two suspects in the court’s second case.
Because the 772-page indictment in Case 002 covers a vast swathe of criminal actions and crime scenes across the country, there are a number of accusations in the case that will likely never be tried.
“It would be impossible to prosecute each and every killing and event,” Deputy Co-Prosecutor Bill Smith said Thursday. He said the rule change would allow judges to jettison some of these, at the request of the prosecutors.
“We certainly want the investigation and trials to continue, but we want to make sure they don’t go on endlessly because of the cost involved and the age of the accused,” Mr. Smith said.
He added that it was a priority to ensure that the crimes included in the next trial in Case 002, set to begin later this year, are representative of the entire indictment, which includes accusations of genocide, forced work, and mass executions.
The court’s judges in 2010 decided to allow charges in the massive case to be heard in a series of consecutive trials. But the five-member panel of trial judges incurred criticism after summarily deciding in 2011 to devote the first “mini-trial” to forced evacuations and a few other related crimes. This means that the vast majority of the criminality laid out in the indictment has not yet been aired in a courtroom, despite a nearly two-year trial.
There are only two remaining accused persons in Case 002. Nuon Chea, deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea under Pol Pot, is now 87, while Khieu Samphan, who served as Khmer Rouge head of state, is 82. Khmer Rouge Foreign Minister Ieng Sary died last year at 87 in the middle of the trial, and his wife, Ieng Thirith, 82, was freed from detention after developing age-related dementia.
The rule change would also allow accusations against the four suspects in government-opposed cases 003 and 004 to be significantly pared down. Investigating judges began a criminal investigation against the suspects in 2009, but they are still unfinished. Their work has been hampered by infighting and allegations of government interference. Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng has not participated in the investigation.
While a partial indictment in one or more of the cases may still be issued later this year, it is highly unlikely that all charges against the suspects will ever be adjudicated.
Heather Ryan, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said it is crucial to ensure the second trial in Case 002 is carried out as efficiently and swiftly as possible, and that this rule change could be one way to make this happen.
But she cautioned that without more transparency in the Office of Co-Investigating Judges about the progress of cases 003 and 004, it will be hard to know which criminal accusations are being dropped.
“There is so little public information about the status of cases 003 and 004 that it is hard to judge the impacts of the proposed rule on these cases,” she said. “Given the one-sided nature of the investigations, care must be taken to ensure any rule change does not have unintended consequences.”