PHNOM PENH – The Khmer Rouge Tribunal has terminated proceedings against the regime’s late “Brother Number Two,” leaving the outcome of his appeal against convictions of genocide and other crimes unclear, as one of his lawyers said Wednesday he should now be “legally innocent.”
On Tuesday, a decision to terminate proceedings against Nuon Chea, who died on Aug. 4 at the age of 93, was issued by the Supreme Court Chamber of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC, also known as the Khmer Rouge Tribunal).
“The death of Nuon Chea has the effect of extinguishing criminal actions against him and terminates all proceedings against him before the Supreme Court Chamber,” the court’s statement said.
However, it did not pronounce any determination of Nuon Chea’s innocence or guilt following his convictions for genocide, crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions at the court in November 2018.
Nuon Chea’s foreign co-lawyer Doreen Chen told EFE Wednesday it was unclear what the Chamber’s decision means for his convictions in case 002/02, but said: “We think the law is clear: Nuon Chea is now legally innocent and the Chamber needs to publicly confirm this.”
On Sunday, ECCC spokesperson Neth Pheaktra told EFE that “under Cambodian law a criminal action is terminated on the death of an accused.”
The hybrid UN-backed court uses Cambodian and international lawyers and judges that enforce both domestic and international laws.
In its decision Tuesday, the Chamber cited both Cambodian law and international criminal tribunal precedence.
More than 1.7 million people – around a quarter of the Cambodian population – died from execution, starvation and forced labor during the Khmer Rouge’s rule from 1975-79 in which it set out to establish an agrarian utopia.
Nuon Chea was arrested in 2007 and sentenced to life in prison in 2014 for crimes against humanity.
Last year, the court handed him a second life sentence for genocide and crimes against humanity as well as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. His notice of appeal was lodged on July 1.
The trials against the leaders of the Khmer Rouge began in 2011 with two other defendants: former Foreign Minister Ieng Sary and his wife and former Minister of Social Affairs, Ieng Thirith, who died in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
The Chamber’s decision Tuesday noted that these deaths were “not analogous to the present case” as Ieng Sary died prior to the issuance of the trial judgment, while Ieng Thirith died under judicial supervision after being found unfit to stand trial.
Khmer Rouge chief Pol Pot died in 1998 at the last bastion of the Maoist guerrillas in the jungles of northern Cambodia.
The court, set up in 2006 after a long negotiation between the UN and the Cambodian government, has received criticism for the duration of the process, its high cost ($300 million) and political interference.
The first verdict was issued in July 2010 against Kaing Guek Eav, aka Duch, who was initially sentenced to 35 years. On appeal, the punishment was raised to life imprisonment for his responsibility in the torture and death of more than 12,000 people at Tuol Sleng prison.