Nuon Chea, former “brother number two” of the Khmer Rouge, has had an appeal against his pretrial detention, rejected in Cambodia, by a special UN-backed tribunal.
The tribunal judges, meeting in Phnom Penh on Thursday, said there were “well founded” reasons to believe that Nuon Chea committed the crimes of which he is accused.
Sine his arrest in September, Nuon Chea has been held in Phnom Penh, along with four other former senior Khmer Rouge officials, at a special detention block.
The most senior surviving member of the Khmer Rouge, 81-year-old, faces charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nuon Chea’s lawyer, Son Arun, said that he regretted the decision, as his client’s mental and physical health had deteriorated since his arrest. “His health is weakening and he is forgetting a lot” he said. Then he added that he had asked the court to determine whether Nuon Chea would be mentally fit to stand trial.
Massive shortfall in funding
Nuon Chea denied prosecution suggestions that he might try to flee the country or interfere with possible witnesses. He told the court : “I have no desire to leave my beloved country” and talked about his arrest, last September, as an “illegal act”.
Nuon Chea has always denied any guilt, saying he was not a cruel man but “a patriot”.
Another senio Khmer Rouge official, Kang Kek Iew, AKA “Dutch”, also appealed his detention, but it was rejected. He headed the group’s Tuol Sleng prison and interrogation centre.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the court of Cambodia, the panel of Cambodian and international judges, is due to begin formal trials later this year.
But earlier this month, tribunal officials warned that a massive shortfall in funding could bring the whold Khmer Rouge trial process to a halt.
Tribunal officials have asked for a tripling of the court’s original budget, from $56m to $170m. They said that initial estimates of the work involved fell woefully short.
BUt because of allegations of corruption and poor management, there are doubts that the full request will be met.
As the tribunal process had been blighted by delays, critics say they fear the few surviving members of the Khmer Rouge leadership may die before ever being brought to justice.