Kerry Hamill: Long quest for justice ends with Khmer Rouge leader's charges dropped

A long journey for justice has ended in disappointment for Olympic rower Rob Hamill after a former henchman implicated in his brother's death walked free.

New Zealander Kerry Hamill was tortured and killed in Cambodia in 1978.

Meas Muth was accused of involvement in the death of Hamill, British teacher John Dewhirst​ and thousands of other people during the Khmer Rouge regime.

For years, Kerry's younger brother Rob pursued the case, even confronting Muth in Cambodia.

Rob Hamill told the Herald he was saddened to learn the former naval commander's charges at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia were dropped.

"I'm not surprised. Very disappointed, but mainly for the people of Cambodia," Hamill said today.

Brother Number One chronicled Rob Hamill's visit to Cambodia on the trail of his elder brother Kerry. Photo / Supplied

"This trial, this court, has been set up to give these people some semblance of justice."

Kerry Hamill was thought to have drifted into Cambodian waters with Dewhirst and Canadian friend Stuart Glass during the Democratic Kampuchea era.

Glass was shot when the boat was seized. Hamill and Dewhirst were captured, then transferred to Phnom Penh and executed.

Muth, 83, was accused of causing at least 7400 deaths during the Khmer Rouge's rule.

But he had argued he was not influential or culpable enough to be prosecuted for war crimes.

The ECCC investigation lurched back and forth for more than a decade. Shortly before Christmas, the United Nations-backed tribunal said the case was terminated.

The war crimes tribunal said the case would end due to "the absence of a definitive and enforceable indictment".

Hamill said he learnt of the decision through a third party.

"The court didn't tell me, which is odd, because I'm listed as a civil party on the case."

The ECCC involved both local and foreign co-investigating judges.

One of the tribunal's international judges in 2015 charged Muth with murder, extermination, enslavement, political and ethnic persecution, and other inhumane acts.

The Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, formerly Tuol Sleng prison, where Kerry Hamill is believed to have been tortured and killed. Photo / John Weekes

In 2018, a national judge said Muth did not fall under the ECCC's jurisdiction and dismissed the case.

But an international judge the same year committed Muth to stand trial for torture, murder, enslavement, genocide, forced marriage, and other crimes.

Rob Hamill rejected claims Muth was not culpable.

"Meas Muth was the last real surviving leader of the regime, I suppose. He was the first leader, speaking from a personal perspective, who had the authority to release Kerry.

"He was that person on the ground in that area where he was captured, and he gave the order to have them transferred to Phnom Penh," Hamill said.

"He claimed he didn't meet Kerry, but it's a pretty far-fetched story that he didn't interact with Kerry at some point, and John Dewhirst."

Rob's mission to understand what happened in Cambodia was chronicled in the documentary film Brother Number One.

Hamill said the new ECCC decision meant Muth had escaped justice.

He added: "It doesn't change the past. It doesn't change anything that happened."

Kerry Hamill, along with fellow adventurers Stuart Glass and John Dewhirst, was killed in 1978 during the genocidal Democratic Kampuchea regime. Photo / Supplied

Hamill, currently in Australia, said the ECCC's hybrid model incorporating judges and laws from different countries was problematic.

"Ultimately it comes down to very few individuals you can count on your fingers who made the call," he said.

"It's an example where governments with too much power manipulate outcomes to their own agenda."

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge cadre, recently spoke about establishing a political dynasty to dominate the country for decades.

"The hybrid court will end soon," Sen reportedly declared in mid-December.

Hamill expected Muth would now live out the rest of his days in his home town as a free man.

"He's got a lovely little home. We visited his house."

Hamill had planned to visit Cambodia recently but restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic thwarted those ideas, he said.

Despite his disappointment at the war crimes tribunal, he would not rule out visiting Cambodia again.

"It doesn't change my opinion of the people at all. It's a beautiful nation, their culture is stunning."

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