By Mike Eckel - Associated Press
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia | Legal and human rights groups say they fear Cambodia’s U.N.- backed genocide tribunal will shut its doors prematurely without prosecuting former second-tier Khmer Rouge officials accused of atrocities.
Lawyers for the regime’s aging former foreign minister, meanwhile, pressed Wednesday for his release from prison, saying he should be held under house arrest instead until his trial later this year.
Ieng Sary’s lawyers argued that his three years of pretrial imprisonment was illegal. A ruling on the appeal is expected later.
In its first case, the tribunal sentenced another Khmer Rouge official, Kaing Guek Eav, to 35 years in prison last July for running the regime’s notorious S-21 prison.
Its second case involves Ieng Sary, former Khmer Rouge chief ideologist Nuon Chea, head of state Khieu Samphan, and Ieng Sary’s wife Ieng Thirith, who was minister for social affairs.
They are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offenses related to the Khmer Rouge’s four-year rule in the 1970s, which resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people.
Human Rights Watch expressed concern Wednesday that the tribunal will shut down its operations after the current case and abandon plans for trials of other former Khmer Rouge officials.
The proceedings follow French-style law, which mandates that investigating judges collect evidence that is then forwarded to prosecutors who decide whether to go to trial. There are parallel sets of Cambodian and international judges and prosecutors working together.
Last week the co-investigating judges - You Bunleng of Cambodia and Siegfried Blunk of Germany - officially informed the court that their investigation for Case No. 3 was complete.
The names of those being probed have been kept secret, but they are believed to include at least five second-tier Khmer Rouge officials.
Critics including Human Rights Watch say the co-investigating judges have done an incomplete investigation in an effort to scuttle future prosecutions.
“The investigating judges have acted precipitously to shut down the investigation, and I say that because we know from talking to people working in the court that they have not gone to crime scenes and done the kind of investigation that one would expect in any criminal case, much less a case of this seriousness,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“They’ve basically done a desk study and it appears that that desk study was a sham,” Mr. Adams said in an interview in Bangkok. “It was a political decision, it appears, to shut down this case.”
The Open Society Justice Initiative, an international legal watchdog group funded by billionaire George Soros, said the court may ultimately decide to strike a deal with the government, agreeing to end cases No. 3 and 4 in exchange for full cooperation from the government and witnesses in the current case.