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Cambodia genocide suspects argue for release

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website] heard arguments Monday from lawyers representing three former Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] leaders regarding their clients' continued detention. Nuon Chea [JURIST report], Khieu Samphan [JURIST news archive] and Ieng Thirith [case materials] appeared alongside their legal representatives, contending that, as a result of the court's violation of the rules regarding detention, they should be released until the start of their trial [Phnom Penh Post report], the date of which has not been set but is expected to begin within six months. The three were indicted [JURIST report] in September, and they argue that court rules require a trial to begin within four months of indictment, rendering their continued detainment unlawful. In addition to the alleged rule violation, the lawyers argued that their clients' age and declining health should be taken into consideration, with both Chea and Thirith leaving the courtroom early on account of health conditions. The prosecution, on the other hand, maintains that no rules were broken and that continued detainment is not only lawful but also necessary, citing the possibility of public outrage if the suspects were released. A fourth individual, Ieng Sary [JURIST news archive], was indicted in September as well, but he does not seek release and was absent from the hearing. The court is expected to rule on the request in February.

In October, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon [official website] said that the ECCC will decide whether to prosecute additional Khmer Rouge officers. Ban spoke to reporters after visiting a genocide museum in Phnom Penh and said that the ECCC would decide if there will be more prosecutions as part of an "international judicial process." Beforehand, while speaking in front of the court, Ban called for those responsible to be held accountable [text] for the tragic events that allegedly caused the death of more than two million civilians between 1975 and 1979. Ban also praised [UN News Centre report] the ECCC's work in pursuing justice, even 30 years after the fall of the regime, and asked for the government's "full cooperation" with the tribunal and "complete respect for its judicial independence." Ban's support followed comments by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile], in which Hun Sen said that the Cambodian government will not allow the UN tribunal to continue prosecuting [JURIST report] former Khmer Rouge officials because the cases disturb the country's ongoing peace process. Hun Sen was formerly a Khmer Rouge officer along with many of his closest allies.

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