Investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal dismissed the case against Im Chaem—finding her to be too low-ranking within the regime’s hierarchy—despite “reliable evidence” that she had the authority to order executions, according to documents released on Monday.
Ms. Chaem, a district secretary who was accused of overseeing mass killings of suspected traitors during the regime, had her case thrown out in February. Investigating judges determined she was neither a senior leader nor one of those most responsible for crimes committed between 1975 and 1979.
The tribunal on Monday released the reasoning for the decision.
“Im Chaem was not a senior leader and would have to fall into the residual category of others who were ‘most responsible.’ However, the evidence does not support such a finding, either—whether it was her position in the hierarchy of [Democratic Kampuchea] or the seriousness of her alleged conduct,” a statement said.
Ms. Chaem’s role as chief of Preah Net Preah district, which now lies in Banteay Meanchey province, meant that she was too far down the regime’s pecking order to be found criminally responsible.
“There were about a hundred other district secretaries during the time of DK; the position of a district secretary was merely the third rung from the bottom in the hierarchy (above village and commune),” it said.
However, the 81-page report does acknowledge “extensive evidence” that Ms. Chaem had the authority to order arrests in the district and “reliable evidence” from the former chief of the Phnom Trayoung security center that she “had the authority to order executions.”
The report also recognizes that Ms. Cheam helped lead Southwest Zone cadres to replace their counterparts in the Northwest Zone under the orders of Ta Mok, the feared Southwest commander who was nicknamed “The Butcher.”
The report later brands the notorious operation “a purge” led by Ta Mok, and highlights the close relationship between Ms. Chaem and the Southwest Zone commander, but asserts this was not enough to prove she held considerable decision-making power on a mass scale.
“We thus find the evidence that Im Chaem had a close relationship to Ta Mok who trusted her to be credible,” the report states.
“We do not consider, however, that this close relationship is in and of itself particularly significant in assessing Im Chaem’s authority and level of responsibility in relation to her alleged criminal conduct.”
Ms. Chaem’s case was the first to be thrown out in the government-opposed cases 003 and 004. Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned that trials of mid-ranking Khmer Rouge officials could plunge the country back into civil war.
Meas Muth, a former Khmer Rouge navy commander, is the highest-profile of the remaining defendants, which also include Ao An, a deputy zone secretary, and Yim Tith, an acting zone secretary under the regime.