In the wake of a split decision on whether or not to prosecute former Khmer Rouge official Meas Muth, the former Navy Commander yesterday said that he was just a small officer in the regime and cannot be held accountable for the atrocities committed under its rule.
On Wednesday, judges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia issued a split decision on whether or not to prosecute Mr Muth.
The National Co-Investigating Judge ruled that Mr Muth was not a senior Khmer Rouge leader nor was he one of the persons most responsible for crimes committed by the regime.
However, the International Co-Investigating Judge ruled that Mr Muth was in fact subject to the ECCC’s jurisdiction because he was a senior Khmer Rouge leader, adding that there is “sufficient evidence to indict him for the genocide of the Vietnamese, crimes against humanity, war crimes as well as premeditated homicide under Cambodian law.”
The decision whether or not to proceed with prosecution will now likely fall to the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber following an appeal.
Reached by phone yesterday, Mr Muth sided with the ruling from the National Co-Investigating Judge when asked if he should not be held accountable for crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge because he was just a low-level officer.
“Yes, that’s right,” he said. “Everyone knows about that.”
“I don’t know about this case and I cannot say anything else,” he added.
Mr Muth also noted his health is failing and he is prepared to die.
“I am close to death,” Mr Muth said. “I have difficulty breathing now and I have already prepared my coffin.”
Mr Muth claims that he was a low-level officer with the Khmer Rouge regime and that it was impossible for him to have committed crimes against humanity between 1975 and 1979 due to his ranking.
Mr Muth and former Khmer Rouge air force commander Sou Met were initially named suspects in Case 003 regarding crimes against humanity committed by the regime.
However, a judicial investigation on Mr Met in Case 003/02 was terminated in June 2015 following his death.
In their separate decisions issued on Wednesday, the National and International Judges differed on his role within the Khmer Rouge leadership.
“Evidence shows that Meas Muth was commander of the Division 3 which became DK Central Division 164 in charge of the Navy in the area of islands in Kampong Som, while Division 1 controlled the area in Koh Kong province,” the National Judge said in his decision summary. “Being the commander, his main responsibility was political affairs.”
“Based on available evidence, it is doubtful that Meas Muth was a deputy in the General Staff. If this was true, he held such position only for a month before the fall of the DK regime in January 1979,” the judge added. “He was not a member of the Central Committee, but merely an assistant member without the right to vote on important decisions.”
“In summary, his position and roles are much more in line with facilitation, and not active participation in policy-making, given that Division 164 dealt with protection of sea territory under the direct control of the Central Committee,” the judge noted. “His participation was neither proximate to nor active in the commission of the crimes.”
However, the International Judge said in his decision summary that “while Meas Muth was not a senior leader as such, he was very close to the senior leadership level due to his position as (i) Commander of Division 164 which entailed being Commander of the DK Navy, one of the three branches of the DK Armed Forces, and responsibility for the territorial waters of DK (ii) reserve member of the General Staff Committee and as one of Son Sen’s deputies, and (iii) a reserve member of the Central Committee from late 1978.”
“Meas Muth is among those most responsible because of the combination of his rank and scope of authority in the hierarchy of the DK, and based on the character and magnitude of his crimes. Meas Muth held an elevated role in the DK hierarchy, working at the highest level of the DK military command structure below the national political leadership,” the judge added. “He was called upon to implement purges of the Revolutionary Army of Kampuchea (“RAK”) beyond his main theatre of operations in Kampong Som and his duties as the Commander of the DK Navy.”
“In sum, both the position and conduct of Meas Muth mark him out as a major player in the DK structure and as a willing and driven participant in the brutal implementation of its criminal and inhuman policies,” the judge noted. “He should stand trial for his crimes.”
Hong Kimsuon, a lawyer representing victims of the regime, yesterday said the decision on whether or not Mr Muth should stand trial at the ECCC is now in the hands of the Pre-Trial Chamber.
“If the co-prosecutors are not satisfied with these decisions, then they have the right to file an appeal with the Pre-Trial Chamber. We the plaintiffs will support the co-prosecutors,” Mr Kimsuon said. “Now we have to wait for the decision from the co-prosecutors – we support if they want to appeal the decision.”
ECCC spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the Pre-trial Chamber consists of three national and two international judges, adding that they will review the case.
“The Closing Order does not mean Meas Muth will either stand trial or have his charges dismissed stemming from the disagreement between the National and International Judges,” Mr Pheaktra said. “When there is an appeal, the Pre-Trial Chamber will review the appeal to decide whether Meas Muth falls under the court’s jurisdiction or not.”
“A majority decision by the judges in the Pre-Trial Chamber is needed to decide Meas Muth’s case,” he added.