The Pre-Trial Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on Wednesday opened a three-day hearing in Case 003 against Khmer Rouge naval commander Meas Muth on whether to prosecute him.
The chamber will announce its decision in the first three months of next year.
The hearing followed separate appeals lodged on April 8 this year by the National Co-Prosecutor and Co-Lawyers, and the International Co-Prosecutor.
The former appealed the closing order delivered by the International Co-Investigating Judge on November 18, last year. The latter appealed the order dismissing the case against Muth delivered by the National Co-Investigating Judge on the same date.
The Pre-Trial Chamber of the ECCC, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (KRT), comprises three national and two international judges. As the appellate chamber, it can hear motions and appeals against orders and decisions issued by the co-investigating judges.
Muth was on March 3, 2015 charged with murder, crimes against humanity and war crimes, and placed under judicial supervision in absentia.
His case was brought forward after the KRT sentenced Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, former senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge, to life imprisonment for genocide and crimes against humanity in Case 002.
Also charged with serious breaches of the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the 1956 Cambodian Penal Code, Muth was not brought to the UN-backed ECCC due to health problems as per his request. But he appeared voluntarily at the ECCC in late 2015.
He was alleged to have committed crimes during the Democratic Kampuchea era at different locations of the Khmer Rouge’s Zones and at other security centres run by the Divisions of the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea from April 17, 1975, to January 6, 1979.
After Wednesday opening day, the Pre-Trial Chamber released a brief of the arguments of the national and international sides of the court.
“The International Co-Investigating Judge concluded that the ECCC had personal jurisdiction over Meas Muth as one of the persons ‘most responsible’ for the DK [Democratic Kampuchea] era crimes because of the combination of his rank and scope of authority in the DK hierarchy, alongside the character and magnitude of his crime,” the statement said.
It said the International Co-Investigating Judge requested to forward the case to a trial chamber.
However, the National Co-Inves-tigating Judge determined that Muth was not in the scope of personal jur-isdiction enshrined in the ECCC procedure.
Stating that Muth was neither the top leader in the Khmer Rouge hierarchy nor the “most responsible” person, the judge dismissed the charges against him.
ECCC spokesperson Neth Pheaktra said on Wednesday that the trial was conducted to hear arguments from all relevant parties to the case.
He said the arguments at this stage did not touch on whether Muth had committed the crimes he had been charged with but on the argument of dismissal by the co-investigating judges.
The Pre-Trial Chamber had listened to arguments raised by all relevant parties in Case 003. More than 500 participants attended the first day of the hearing, he said.
“The hearing was held in public for the introduction, the report on the case and the questions by the judges to the relevant parties. The rest of the hearing will be held behind closed doors,” Pheaktra said.
He said the Pre-Trial Chamber is expected to issue a decision on whether to drop or proceed with the case in the first three months of next year.
Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said all parties should respect the court’s decision.
“As long as there is evidence in the case, I think we should accept the judges’ decision no matter how we emotionally feel about it,” he said.