Amid criticism over the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s failure to secure the arrest of former navy chief Meas Muth and district commander Im Chaem, who were charged in absentia earlier this month, the U.N.’s special expert on the court Wednesday met with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to discuss the cases, among other court matters.
Investigations in cases 003 and 004—which deal with crimes committed under Pol Pot by officials who were not members of the highest echelon of the regime—began in 2009 and have long faced resistance from the government, with Prime Minister Hun Sen repeatedly voicing his opposition to pursuing the cases.
For the past two years, International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon has pushed forward alone as his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, has refused to assist in the investigations.
On Wednesday, Mr. An, who chairs the government’s task force on the Khmer Rouge tribunal, met in Phnom Penh with the U.N.’s special expert on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), David Scheffer, for a “constructive meeting,” according to a joint statement.
“Both officials expressed their continuing full support for cooperation in the implementation of all provisions of the ECCC Law and the UN/Cambodia Agreement in order to discharge the judicial mandate and procedures of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,” the statement says.
Lars Olsen, a spokesman for the tribunal, said that Mr. An and Mr. Scheffer discussed cases 003 and 004, but that he was unable to provide details.
“They discussed a number of issues related to the court and the development of the court and I can confirm that cases three and four were part of the discussions,” he said.
The meeting came two days after U.S.-based Human Rights Watch condemned the government and the U.N. for failing to arrest Meas Muth and Im Chaem, calling on the U.N. to withdraw its participation in the tribunal if the government continued to obstruct prosecutions in the cases.
Also on Monday, the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI), which monitors the tribunal, released a briefing paper that claimed at least one arrest warrant has been issued by Judge Harmon, and that a failure to execute it by the judicial police “makes a mockery” of the tribunal. The OSJI said a lack of transparency by the U.N. and the court’s international officials was “appalling.”
Asked whether there were concerns at the tribunal about executing arrest warrants, Mr. Olsen replied: “First of all, the issue about any arrest warrants, whether or not they have been issued or how many [there are] is covered by confidentiality, and I cannot comment on any future hypothetical scenarios.”
Both Meas Muth, who stands accused of purging Khmer Rouge soldiers and killing foreigners caught at sea, and Im Chaem, who is suspected of enacting purges in the Northwest Zone, have expressed their lack of concern about facing charges of crimes against humanity.
When asked Wednesday if police would execute arrest warrants in the cases, Mao Chandara, who is in charge of police at the tribunal, echoed concerns raised by Mr. Hun Sen that such action could lead to instability with former Khmer Rouge soldiers again taking up arms.
“If [the ECCC] continues forward, we have to review…we especially have to study the security impact, that is [the] biggest problem,” Mr. Chandara said.
“If we continue to proceed, what is the influence on security?” he said, questioning public support for additional prosecutions and asking whether the tribunal might be a “process to break up the nation.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak evaded the question of whether police would carry out any arrest warrants, telling a reporter he did “not want to speak with you” about the matter. But he expressed skepticism that the process would get that far.
“I believe they can’t issue warrants,” General Sopheak said. “There are two prosecutors, one Cambodian and one foreigner…and there are two judges also.”