World Bulletin / News Desk
The Khmer Rouge swept to power in April 1975, overthrowing the United States-backed Lon Nol regime and instituting a series of brutal policies to turn the country into an agrarian-first regime.
This came at the expense of at least 1.5 million lives, which were lost through work, torture or execution.
On Wednesday, the Co-Investigating Judges at the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal issued their closing order with regard to the allegations made against Im Chaem, one of four remaining suspects.
It stated that "she was neither a senior leader nor otherwise one of the most responsible officials of the Khmer Rouge regime” and therefore did not fall under the court’s jurisdiction.
Chaem was allegedly a district secretary in the regime’s northwestern zone. Along with two other men, she became a suspect in what is known as Case 004.
In 2015, she was charged with homicide and crimes against humanity committed at a number of sites.
Because the case against her was moving at a faster pace than her other two co-accused, it was “severed” into Case 004/01 last year.
In their statement, national co-investigating judge You Bunleng and his international counterpart, Michael Bohlander, said a separate document with the full reasons for arriving at their decision would be filed with the court “in due course”.
The dismissal of the case can be appealed, and the court’s Pre-trial Chamber can still order a trial against her.
Established in 2006, the court -- UN-backed in Cambodia’s domestic legal system -- has issued two final judgments against three suspects.
Former S-21 prison chief Kaing Gek Eav, alias Duch, is serving a life prison sentence.
“Brother Number Two” Nuon Chea and the regime’s former head of state, Khieu Samphan, have also been sentenced to life behind bars. They are also awaiting closing arguments in the second phase of a case against them.
Two other co-accused in that case, husband and wife Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith, died in 2013 and 2015, respectively.
There is one surviving suspect in Case 003 after the other died in 2014.
Youk Chhang, a survivor of the regime and executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam) told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that while the decision isn’t easy to accept, he has done so “in the belief that they have followed the rules and evidence”.
“Since the beginning, I have prepared myself for that, even if I have a different opinion about who is most responsible,” he said.
“You don’t have to be someone involved in the execution of 2 million people to be found most responsible. In principle, you have no right by God to harm a person, and if you did, you are most responsible,” he underlined.
“Legal definitions are sometimes at the expense of the victims,” he added, “and can be difficult to take. This is their decision and like it or not, we have to swallow it. It can be bitter and a piece of stone, but that is the reality.”
For Chhang, the path to justice has now taken many forms here, not just at the tribunal, but also through education and dialogue programs in which people are encouraged to discuss and learn more about the past.