The Military Court has charged former Khmer Rouge commanders Ta Mok and Comrade Duch with two new crimes allowing for them to be detained a sixth year in prison without trial, court officials said Thursday.
Ta Mok, 80, the one-legged former Khmer Rouge military strongman and Duch, 62, who oversaw the Khmer Rouge’s notorious Tuol Sleng torture center and prison, have been detained at the military prison in Phnom Penh since their capture in 1999.
“They must remain detained because we have found new charges,” Ngin Sam An, the Military Court’s investigating judge, said on Thursday.
Ta Mok and Duch, whose real name is Kang Kek Iev, were charged in late February with committing war crimes and killing foreign nationals, Ngin Sam An said.
“These charges can last for another three years, but the extension [will be] done every year,” he said.
Military Court Director Ney Thol confirmed that new charges have been made against the two.
Ngin Sam An said it was essential that the two remain behind bars for another year so he can continue his investigations.
“If they were out of detention, it would be difficult for my investigation,” he said. “They can damage our work, evidence and witnesses.”
Ngin Sam An said he received reports detailing the deaths of two Australians and one New Zealand national at the hands of the Khmer Rouge from their respective governments in 1999.
“They did not file a complaint but they just informed us of their dead citizens for the forthcoming [Khmer Rouge] tribunal,” Ngim Sam An said, adding that he is also investigating the deaths of other foreigners killed during the Khmer Rouge regime.
The Australian Embassy refused to comment while the New Zealand Embassy in Bangkok could not be reached for comment.
Ta Mok and Duch were originally charged with membership in the Khmer Rouge in 1999 and jailed under a law allowing for one year detentions with yearly extensions up to a maximum of three years. After the three-year detention limit expired in March 2002, both men were charged with crimes against humanity, allowing their detention for three more years.
Government officials said last year that their prison detentions would not be extended beyond 2005.
Kar Savuth, Duch’s lawyer, said there was nothing he could do to secure bail for his client. Ta Mok’s lawyer, Benson Samay, said he did not know his client was facing new charges.
“I do not know and I was not informed of the new charges,” he said. “But I was told he is detained another year.”
News that the two suspects will be detained a sixth year without trial prompted concern and questions from legal experts on Thursday.
“I think the detentions have been illegal,” said Lao Mong Hay of the Center for Social Development. He condemned their extended detention without trial as “unconstitutional.”
At the very least, Lao Mong Hay said, the two men should have been released then re-arrested.
Lao Mong Hay also questioned why the government has arrested and detained Duch and Ta Mok while other senior leaders of the regime, such as Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan remain free.
“Everybody, according to international law, has the right to a speedy trial,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said on Thursday.
“We don’t need a special trial. Just try them with the criminal code,” she added.
Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, would not comment on the continuing detentions without trial except to say the two should get new lawyers.
“They haven’t been helping their clients,” Youk Chhang said.