Eight months after the closure of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s investigation of the former regime, the Vietnamese Embassy said yesterday that authorities in Vietnam were still working to collect records sought by the court.
The tribunal’s co-investigating judges found in an indictment published Wednesday that Vietnamese authorities did not respond to requests for assistance in investigating crimes committed on Vietnamese soil by the Khmer Rouge army.
The embassy’s response yesterday followed defense motions this week charging that the court’s investigation was incomplete and calling on Judge Marcel Lemonde to explain public remarks he made last week regarding investigators’ lack of success obtaining all the information they sought.
The Khmer Rouge’s burning of villages and mass slaughter of civilians in Vietnam’s Tay Ninh, Kien Giang and An Giang provinces in 1977 were a flashpoint in the hostilities between the two nations that precipitated Vietnam’s military overthrow of the Khmer Rouge more than a year later.
However Co-Investigating Judges Lemonde and You Bunleng found in their Sept 15 indictment that Vietnamese authorities did not respond to repeated requests for information.
Six months after a rogatory letter was delivered to the embassy in Phnom Penh in June 2008, a follow up letter was also sent but again received no response, the judges found. Telephone calls and personal visits also yielded no response.
“[T]he co-investigating judges concluded that the likelihood of the Vietnamese authorities’ cooperating and providing access to potential crime sites within the territory of Vietnam was low,” Judges Bunleng and Lemonde wrote.
“As such, any investigation into alleged crimes committed on the territory of Vietnam was necessarily limited as it has not been possible during the investigation to visit the sites of any alleged attacks nor interview any witnesses from the local areas.”
Lai Xuan Chien, counselor the Vietnamese Embassy, declined yesterday to discuss the possibility of investigators’ visiting Vietnam but wrote in a letter that Vietnamese authorities were searching for records requested by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.
“The embassy has responded by telephone to the official of the ECCC that Vietnam is trying its best to collect the documents required by the court but it is very difficult due to the fact that more than 30 years have passed and the documents were archived in the post-war condition,” Mr Lai wrote.
“I am certain that Vietnam continues to be in search for the documents required and be willing to support any goodwill which may assist the current process of peace building and development of Cambodia.”
In announcing the indictments on Sept 16, Judge Lemonde alluded to the fact that six senior members of the ruling party had not responded to summonses he issued seeking their testimony.
He said this was not the only information his office had tried and failed to obtain.
“We were unable to obtain everything we wanted. We were unable to hear certain witnesses. This is no scoop,” he said at the time. “We sometimes had problems in obtaining answers from governments to which we were asking questions.”
In motions filed Monday, lawyers for Foreign Minister Ieng Sary said Judge Lemonde’s remarks amounted to an admission that his own investigation was flawed and asked that he be compelled to explain any such flaws.
“With respect, Judge Lemonde’s admission is much more than a ‘scoop,'” defense lawyers Michael Karnavas and Ang Udom wrote. “It constitutes evidence from the international co-investigating judge that the judicial investigation in case 002 was incomplete.”
“A reasonable trier of fact may conclude [that] full and frank disclosure of any such flaws constituted a prerequisite to Mr Ieng Sary’s right to adequate facilities to prepare a defense.”