Ailing Khmer Rouge minister's lawyers challenge genocide court
PHNOM PENH (AFP) — The former Khmer Rouge foreign minister appeared for a second day before the UN-backed Cambodian genocide court Tuesday to seek his release from detention, in a case filled with thorny legal issues.
Ieng Sary, 82, is one of five top regime cadres currently detained for crimes allegedly committed during the Khmer Rouge's murderous rule over Cambodia from 1975-79.
Established in 2006, the joint Cambodia-UN tribunal is expected to hold its first trial later this year, after nearly a decade of haggling to try to bring those responsible for crimes committed during the regime to justice.
Lawyers defending Ieng Sary against charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity argued Tuesday that he was absolved of any crimes because of an earlier royal pardon.
"In accordance with the laws and penal procedures of each country, no one should be punished again for an offense for which he has already been convicted or acquitted," defence lawyer Ang Udom told the packed courtroom.
"There should be no investigation or prosecution against Ieng Sary," he added.
Also on Tuesday, the Cambodian lawyer defending former Khmer Rouge head of state Khieu Samphan has resigned citing ill health, the genocide court announced Tuesday.
Say Bory had been working with famed French lawyer Jacques Verges, who has defended some of the world's most infamous figures, to mount a defence for the one-time Khmer Rouge leader.
But he has now resigned from the case "for reasons of ill health," the court said in a statement.
"It was considered safer to instruct a new Cambodian lawyer sooner rather than later, in order to give the new lawyer as much time as possible to prepare the case," said the statement by the tribunal.
Khieu Samphan's trial for war crimes and crimes against humanity is expected to start sometime within the next year.
During the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime, Khieu Samphan was appointed head of state as well as to more powerful positions within the party and government.
It was in these roles that war crimes researchers believe he would have been aware that one of the worst atrocities of the 20th century was unfolding.
Ieng Sary was convicted of genocide in a 1979 trial in absentia conducted by the government installed after Vietnam occupied the country and ended the Khmer Rouge's bloody reign.
However he was pardoned in 1996 upon surrendering to the government.
"We believe that it would be double jeopardy and Cambodian law does apply that Mr Ieng Sary cannot be tried again for the same crimes or the same charges twice," said Ieng Sary's other defence lawyer, Michael Karnavas.
Resolving how to reconcile a past amnesty with the international court's authority will be one of the trickiest issues to face the judges at the tribunal, which operates on a mixture of Cambodian and international law.
Four other former leaders, including Ieng Sary's wife Thirith, are also in detention awaiting trial.
Up to two million people died of starvation and overwork, or were executed, as the regime emptied Cambodia's cities in a murderous drive to create an agrarian utopia.