The latest person to be charged, on 9 December, is Yim Tith, also known as Ta (“Grandfather”) Tith. He is accused of nothing less than genocide, crimes against humanity (namely murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, imprisonment, torture, persecution and other inhumane acts including forced marriage), grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 (LINK: https://www.icrc.org/en/war-and-law/treaties-customary-law/geneva-conven...) and violations of the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code.
Yim Tith and the other three newly charged persons are suspects in cases 003 and 004. These trials have not formally begun yet. The fact that they were charged at all is remarkable. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge soldier himself, strictly opposes further proceedings after the ongoing case 002, in which the defendants are Nuon Chea, chief ideologist of the Khmer Rouge and “brother number two” after Pol Pot, and Khieu Samphan, the regime’s head of state. Only case 001 has been concluded.
The KRT is a hybrid court, where Cambodian and international judges work together – or against each other. All four suspects in cases 003 and 004 were charged by the tribunal’s international co-investigating judge. His Cambodian counterpart did not support the investigations and does not back the charges.
In this setting, it is doubtful whether those suspects will ever be tried. Cambodian police actually refused to carry out court warrants issued last year for two persons:
- Meas Muth was the Khmer Rouge’s navy chief and is so far the only suspect in case 003. He was initially charged in absentia in March this year. International co-investigating judge Michael Bohlander charged him on 14 December, rescinding an earlier decision by his predecessor. This time, Meas Muth appeared in court voluntarily.
- Im Chaem who is a suspect in case 004 and was a deputy chief administrator in the Central Zone of Democratic Kampuchea, as the country was called under Pol Pot. She was charged in absentia in March 2015.
Yim Tith (case 004), who is now a wealthy businessman according to the Phnom Penh Post, was personally present at court for the charges, but was free to walk away afterwards. Lars Olsen, the Norwegian spokesman of the KRT, told the Phnom Penh Post that no arrest warrant was issued and stated: “There is not a presumption of trial just because someone has been charged.”
It takes a lot of stamina to push cases forward at the KRT. Political interference, administrative obstructions and notorious underfunding are some of the obstacles. Accordingly, international staff changes faster and more often than desired. On the other hand, bringing in “fresh”, motivated staff may have positive effects too. Michael Bohlander, the German jurist who decided on his own to charge Yim Tith, has only taken office as co-investigating judge in July.
The KRT, which is officially called Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was launched in 2006 with the optimistic plan to achieve its goal of trying and sentencing the most senior and most responsible surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime within three years. So far, only three persons were sentenced. Only case 001 has been concluded, while case 002 is ongoing and cases 003 and 004 are under investigation.
The international community’s patience and money to support the challenging endeavour are running short. Time is also playing against the prosecution: all suspects are in their eighties or approaching them. One has died during the proceedings and another one was declared unfit for trial due to dementia. In 2006, one of the judges told me in an interview: “If the processes take 20 years, they are all dead.” Almost ten years have passed since then.