Tribunal Judge Defends Laying Absentia Charges

A co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal blamed the failure of judicial police to execute arrest warrants for suspects Meas Muth and Im Chaem as the reason for a controversial decision to charge them in absentia, a declassified document released Monday shows.

The two former Khmer Rouge officials were charged with crimes against humanity in March. The failure of the government and the U.N. to arrest the pair, forcing International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon to lay charges in absentia, received heavy criticism from rights groups.

In a January 30 letter to Interior Ministry Secretary of State Em Sam An, who chairs the tribunal’s security commission, Mr. Harmon says he charged the suspects in absentia because authorities failed to carry out the arrest warrants issued for Khmer Rouge district commander Im Chaem and the regime’s former navy chief, Meas Muth, in August and December, respectively.

“I have reached this conclusion reluctantly, but feel I am left with no other choice,” Mr. Harmon says in the letter.

“I foresee that taking this action will invite considerable public attention on the failure of the judicial police to discharge their responsibilities under the terms of the agreement, however, further delay creates an unacceptable risk to the rights of the suspects and the victims and will engender disrespect for both the rule of law and this Extraordinary Chamber of the Cambodian Courts,” he says, referring to the tribunal by its official name.

Mr. Harmon states that he met with judicial police liaison officer Soleng Lor in October to discuss the outstanding arrest warrant for Im Chaem. General Lor proposed “outreach programs” in areas surrounding Im Chaem’s home as a condition for her arrest and one near Meas Muth’s home in Battambang province’s Samlot district.

“Since the outreach programs were completed, more than two months have passed and neither arrest warrant has been executed,” Mr. Harmon says in the letter.

He adds that further delays could affect the rights of the “Cambodian people to obtain justice for crimes committed during the period of Democratic Kampuchea.”

Mr. Sam An and the Interior Ministry spokesman could not be reached for comment.

(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)

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