Invoking a rule concerning the transparency of proceedings at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, newly appointed International Co-Investigating Judge Mark Harmon has released a list of 14 crime sites now under investigation in government-opposed Case 004.
The Kraing Ta Chan security centre in Takeo province. Photograph: DC-Cam
Security centres and prisons, work sites and execution sites in Battambang, Pursat, Takeo, Kampong Thom and Kampong Cham provinces are among the sites listed in the case against former zone leaders Im Chaem, Ta An and Ta Tith. Many of the crime sites relate to the brutal treatment of the Khmer Krom.
The statement is the first public notice made by the international judge since he took up the post two months ago.
Allegations of political interference into the investigations of cases 003 and 004 have marred the court since the start.
Repeatedly and vocally, top government officials have made it clear they oppose the cases, saying prosecutions of mid-level cadres could spark civil war. Harmon’s two predecessors quit the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges amid claims of political interference and the cases have moved forward only in fits and starts.
The newest list expands upon the Case 004 crime sites begrudgingly released by the office in 2011 under public pressure from the prosecutors. Citing misinformation spread by the media, Bunleng and his then-international counterpart, Judge Siegfried Blunk, issued a list of 30 sites but stressed that there were “serious doubts” over the case’s legality.
Harmon’s list, however, shies away from such language, and, perhaps tellingly, cites the same rule his beleaguered predecessor, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, invoked as a workaround that allowed him to issue statements without the approval of his national counterpart. Yesterday’s statement is issued only in the name of the international co-investigating judge and does not bear the approval of Harmon’s national counterpart, Judge You Bunleng.
“I’m not surprised that it has come to the point of him having to take action on his own,” said Clair Duffy, a tribunal monitor at Open Society Justice Initiative.
“You only have to look at the history of these cases to see that You Bunleng has resisted every step of the way, since the days of [the first international co-investigating judge, Marcel] Lemonde. I don’t know of any recent developments that would indicate the government had changed its views about cases 003 and 004. And given what we have alleged repeatedly, that every Cambodian decision-maker in the court is under the government’s thumb on cases, I don’t see his position being any different now.”
Neither Bunleng nor Harmon could be reached for comment yesterday.
Senior Assistant Prosecutor Dale Lysak said yesterday he found it heartening that Harmon released the list without requests or prodding from the prosecution. “Obviously, I see this as a pretty positive development,” he said. “So far, things seem to be moving along and making progress. I haven’t seen any of the problems that seem to have been going on with the last few judges. It’s still early, but it seems to be moving forward.”
The inclusion of the Khmer Krom crime sites that prosecutors requested investigated in June 2011 represented a major development for the tribunal, he added. “Corroboration that crimes against the Khmer Krom are going to be investigated is quite important,” said Lysak.
Prosecutors and civil party lawyers maintain that genocide charges should be levied on those responsible for crimes against the Khmer Krom, an ethnic minority targeted by the Khmer Rouge and subjected to uniquely atrocious treatment.
Calling Harmon’s statement “a good first step forward”, civil party lawyer Silke Studzinsky stressed that significant outreach efforts still had to be undertaken or the apparent movement in the case would have little impact on victims.
“The publication on the homepage of the court does not reach many Cambodians. Only very few Cambodians have access to the internet,” she pointed out.
Declining to share details, court spokeswoman Yuko Maeda said further efforts to inform victims and civil parties of the new crime sites – thus allowing them to participate in the case – were under way.