Just how far can two new cases at the Khmer Rouge tribunal go?

11 March 2015 by Julia Wallace, Phnom Penh (Cambodia)

After over five years of investigation fraught with infighting, government interference and legal drama, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has charged two more Khmer Rouge officials with a slew of crimes. They include murder, enslavement, extermination and grave breaches of the Geneva Convention.

Skulls in the Choeung Ek memorial of people murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot from 1975-1979 (Photo: Flickr/sctatepdx)
Image caption: 
Skulls in the Choeung Ek memorial of people murdered during the Khmer Rouge regime led by Pol Pot from 1975-1979 (Photo: Flickr/sctatepdx)

The freshly accused are Meas Muth, once head of the Khmer Rouge navy, and Im Chaem, who allegedly oversaw slave labour and purges as the chief of a district in the country’s north-west. Another two Khmer Rouge figures are also under investigation in what are known as Cases 003 and 004, which deal with mid-level military and civilian officials and are intractably opposed by the Cambodian government.

News of the charges was greeted with excitement among many information-starved court observers. The controversial cases have been investigated in strict secrecy, with not even the defendants’ lawyers allowed access to the slowly expanding files. But Judge Mark Harmon’s move to charge Meas Muth and Im Chaem was actually anticlimactic. The case has been hugely confusing for observers, who have been unsure of the status of the defendants as the probe has crept forward. The pair had seemingly already been charged by Harmon's predecessor in a move not readily accepted by Cambodian officials in the hybrid court.

Internal court battles

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