The international co-investigating judge overseeing a U.N.-backed war tribunal in Cambodia resigned Monday, citing interference from his domestic counterpart and dealing yet another blow to the scandal-rocked court.
Swiss judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet is the second judge to resign from the tribunal, which was established in 2003 to seek justice for the deaths of up to two million Cambodians during the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-1979.
German judge Siegfried Blunk left the court, officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), in October, blaming government interference.
Kasper-Ansermet was appointed to replace him by the U.N. General Secretary, but the decision was vetoed by Cambodia’s highest judiciary body, the Supreme Council of Magistracy, citing his use of Twitter to draw attention to the debate on whether the tribunal should try two former Khmer Rouge military commanders.
“In view of the victims’ right to have investigations conducted in a proper manner and despite his determination to do so, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet considers that the present circumstances no longer allow him to properly and freely perform his duties,” the ECCC said in a statement Monday.
Kasper-Ansermet said that his authority to investigate possible third and fourth cases at the tribunal had been systematically blocked by his counterpart Judge You Bunleng.
The court has completed one case against a former prison chief and a second is currently underway trying three of the Khmer Rouge’s highest-level surviving officials.
Tribunal spokesperson Neth Pheaktra told RFA that Kasper-Ansermet’s reason for resigning was unclear.
“His letter of resignation is the judge’s right,” Neth Pheaktra said.
“According to the agreement between the Cambodian government and the U.N., if there are any posts available, the U.N. General Secretary will appoint a new judge to replace him,” he said.
The spokesperson said that whenever the U.N. seeks to put forward a new candidate, the Supreme Council of Magistracy, Cambodia’s highest judicial body, will review the appointment and make a decision.
When asked why Kasper-Ansermet had suggested that he was unable to do his job without interference, Neth Pheaktra said he would refer to Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng, without elaborating.
According to the ECCC statement, Kasper-Ansermet’s authority to investigate cases 003 and 004 was been “constantly contested by the National Co-Investigating Judge, You Bunleng,” despite an opinion issued by Pre-Trial Chamber Judges confirming that he should replace Blunk and has the power to act accordingly.
In January, the U.N. ruled that Kasper-Ansermet could proceed with his mandate to investigate cases at the tribunal, despite a decision by Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy to veto him, saying the judicial body’s approval was “not necessary.”
But the Cambodian government defended the decision, saying U.N. officials did not fully understand Cambodia’s rights according to the agreement under which the ECCC was formed and that the authority to appoint the judge ultimately lies with the country’s Supreme Council of Magistracy.
The council is headed by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and determines all judicial appointments, transfers, promotions, suspensions, or disciplinary actions.
Since Judge Blunk left the court in October, Kasper-Ansermet had issued a number of decisions, recently notified the suspects in cases 003 and 004 of their rights, and plans to conduct interviews with civil parties the week beginning March 19.
But the ECCC said that Judge You Bunleng’s active opposition to investigations into cases 003 and 004 had led to a “dysfunctional situation within the ECCC,” that made it impossible for Kasper-Ansermet to proceed.
The judge’s resignation will take effect on May 4, 2012.
Mired in allegations
Despite spending nearly U.S. $150 million since it was formed in 2003, the ECCC has handed down only one sentence and has been mired in allegations of corruption and interference.
Former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, was jailed in 2010 for 30 years for overseeing the deaths of thousands of people.
A second trial involving the Khmer Rouge's four most-senior surviving leaders is under way. Many do not expect the third and fourth cases to proceed.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, himself a former Khmer Rouge cadre, and other Cambodian officials have often expressed opposition to any further prosecutions in the Tribunal beyond the second trial.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Naline Pea. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.