Contrary to media reports of two more 'indictments' of former Khmer Rouge figures by the Cambodian-UN Khmer Rouge Tribunal, what has actually happened is that Meas Muth (the former Khmer Rouge navy commander) and Im Chaem (a former regional detention centre director) have been charged in absentia with crimes against humanity by one of the tribunal's international judges, Mark Harmon.

Judge Harmon has a long record of association with international tribunals and with law enforcement in the US. He joined the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) in 2012.

In taking this action, Judge Harmon is acting in accordance with the tribunal's procedures, which permit a judge to charge individuals without having the agreement of a fellow Cambodian judge — this is why the term 'charged' is correct, rather than 'indicted'. For an indictment to be entered, additional approval is required. And according to the Phnom Penh Post report cited above, Harmon's Cambodian counterpart, Judge You Bunleng, considers the cases against Meas Muth and Im Chaem (listed in court documents as Cases 003 and 004) as already closed.

It appears Prime Minister Hun Sen had at least an inkling that Judge Harmon was about to act, since he delivered a familiar warning against further cases being heard at the ECCC last week. He claimed that if further cases went before the tribunal there was a risk of war breaking out.

So, not for the first time, Hun Sen has shown his deep displeasure at the role played by international elements within the ECCC. For Judge You to now go ahead and endorse his international colleague's decision against the Prime Minister's wishes seems unlikely. If, contrary to all expectations, he were to do so, it would be a striking example of Hun Sen's power being on the wane.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.