Cambodian judges against arresting war crimes suspect


Former Khmer Rouge navy commander free despite 2 arrest warrants, with Prime Minister Hun Sen opposed to his case

By Lauren Crothers

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – Arresting a wanted war crimes suspect would be “humiliating” for him, three judges at Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge tribunal have argued, local media reported Saturday.

In March, former Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth was charged with homicide and crimes against humanity, allegedly committed in a number of different locations around the country and its islands. 

But two arrest warrants have not been acted upon by police officials and Muth continues to live in relative peace in Battambang province, while his Case 003, as it is known, continues to be opposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

At the heart of the problem is a deep rift that has come to be synonymous with what is known as the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges.

Because the tribunal is a hybrid court — with UN and international staff collaborating with Cambodians in the country’s domestic court system — differences of opinion have arisen over the years, particularly in that office.

The defense for Muth had argued that the pre-trial chamber needs to rule on the legality of the warrants, because they were issued by the former International Co-Investigating Judge, Mark Harmon, without the backing of his national counterpart, Judge You Bunleng.

They said to arrest him would infringe upon his liberty until that validity is determined.

Harmon resigned in July, citing personal reasons, and was recently replaced by Michael Bohlander.

The national and international judges need to reach a supermajority of four votes in order for decisions to be rendered. There are three national and two international judges on the pre-trial chamber panel.

But in the document released Friday, the three Cambodian judges side with Muth’s defense, referring to Harmon’s warrant as a “coercive measure to be enforced by judicial police to bring Meas Muth before the International Co-Investigating Judge alone, but not before both Co-Investigating Judges.”

It says the arrest “in Cambodian society, is regarded as humiliating and affecting Meas Muth’s honour, dignity and rights substantially and irremediably.”

In a report Saturday, The Cambodia Daily quoted Long Panhavuth, a court monitor with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, as saying that it would be more dignified if the police actually acted upon the two warrants.

 “They don’t have the ability to interpret whether that order is wrong or not legal, the order needs to be enforced,” Panhavuth told the Daily.