German Judge Quits Tribunal

Rights groups and victims of Khmer Rouge war crimes welcome the move and the UN considers a 'reserve' judge as replacement.

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A foreign tourist takes photos of skulls of Khmer Rouge victims displayed at the Choeung Ek killing fields memorial in Phnom Penh, May 4, 2011

Under fire from victims and human rights groups, a German judge has resigned from a United Nations-backed tribunal investigating Khmer Rouge war crimes in Cambodia.

Siegfried Blunk, the tribunal's international co-investigating judge, cited interference by Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's government for his decision to quit.

He said the government was trying to block further trials of people who may have been involved in atrocities by the Khmer Rouge regime, which was in power during the 1975-79 period when about 1.7 million Cambodians perished in the "Killing Fields."

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is officially called, has so far completed just one trial which led to the jailing last year of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav 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.

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.

"Because of these repeated statements, which will be perceived as attempted interference by government officials with Cases 003 and 004, the International Co-Investigating Judge has submitted his resignation," the ECCC said in a statement.

Some rights groups had demanded the resignation of both Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng over their handling of the two new cases. Several Khmer Rouge victims had also accused them of bowing to political pressure to drop the cases.


The United Nations, meanwhile, "is working urgently" to ensure that a reserve co-investigating judge, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet of Switzerland, is available soon to replace Blunk, "so that the important work of the ECCC is not disrupted," said Martin Nesirky, spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.

"The United Nations has consistently emphasized that the ECCC must be permitted to proceed with its work without interference from any entity, including the Royal Government of Cambodia, donor states or civil society," he said.

Right groups and victims, as expected, hailed Blunk's resignation.

"I think today is a hopeful day because any replacement of this judge is likely to look at the evidence and decide that the cases should go forward and that they should not be dismissed," Brad Adams, the executive Director for the Asian Division of Human Rights Watch, told RFA.

Adams said Blunk "had acted unprofessionally, had refused to investigate cases properly and had allowed political interference in the court with his work."

He found Blunk's reason for resigning "interesting."

"His resignation statement blamed the Cambodian government, which is correct because they have from the beginning interfered in the work of the court by saying that the cases should not go forward and by giving instructions to the Cambodian judges and prosecutors, who have followed those instructions."

Asked for any evidence of the alleged instructions, Adams said, "We have been told by numerous people working inside the court—all of whom have wished to remain anonymous—that instructions had been given and that some of the Cambodian personnel had admitted that to some of the international personnel.

"If it was just one person, we wouldn't have repeated it," he said.


Clair Duffy, a court monitor for advocacy group Open Society Justice Initiative, said the international community had to put pressure on Cambodia to cooperate in the third and fourth case investigations.

"They can't just fix this situation by putting another international investigating judge in that position. They need to address the underlying problem first, which is the Cambodian government's public opposition to these cases and its real control over the judicial decision," she said, according to Reuters.

The Khmer Rouge victims also welcomed Blunk's departure.

“We have a great hope [over] his replacement ... This is a hope and an opportunity to pave way for the case file 003 and 004 to be moving forward,” said Seng Theary, the president of the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia.

Youk Chhang, the chairman of Phnom Penh–based Documentation Center of Cambodia which is collecting primary documents, photographs, and other materials that chronicle human rights abuses by the Khmer Rouge, called for a UN probe.

“I think by resigning and passing on the burden to others rather than the court itself is an escape from what has been done so far. The United Nations must have an independent investigation into any irregularity in the Office of ECCC investigating unit,” he said.

Reported by RFA's Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.


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Oct 11, 2011 01:10 PM

Strange to hear the UNHQ spokesman today mention UN fears that civil society will interfere with the tribunal. How absurd! The UN has ocne again shamed itseld by organizing this scam in the name of justice. I see several Vietnamese commentators correctly recognize that only another Yuon investigative judge, (that makes a pair) could make this thing work to the CPP's goals.

Oct 10, 2011 08:02 AM

Too late, but a welcome decision, however self-serving the reason behind it. We may be at a stage that all the international judges have compromised themselves beyond recovery. Only the two international prosecutors and their deputy have courageously maintained their integrity from day one. Congratulations to them. One would hope that Blunk would be disbarred, but perhaps it's good enough to see him forgotten.

Oct 11, 2011 03:18 AM

Congratulations to the hard-working international staff in the office of former judges Lemonde and Blunk. They suffered through this stupidity for more than five years, so many of them forced by their conscience to resign.

Oct 11, 2011 05:37 AM

It's very simple to hear this news since the habit of Hunsen's slave regime of Hanoi always interferes in court's decision and independence. The world should open their eyes to find other ways out of this one-eye man such as Hunsen's influence. I am a Vietnamese by birth cheerfully predict that International backed court would fail ultimately because of Hunsen, all culprits will die before any justice being found. From now onwards, do not wonder why so many co-international Judges resigned because they could not operate freely, Hunsen and his Hunchmen all Khmer Rouge how come they let the court persecute their comrades???

Oct 11, 2011 05:49 AM

Surely, UN-backed Court would be defeated by former Khmer Rouge Cadre, Hunsen. Very clearly, how can we expect justice to prevail in Cambodia even the International Court, Hunsen treacherous regime able to infiltrate to cause disruption. Only Youn will be ok to carry out this noble work for A-sen, Akpotcheat finally, Youn will persecute Hunsen and his families. Bravo Hunsen regime overcomes UN-backed court...

Oct 10, 2011 09:15 AM

Good move! Get of out Dodge before you get charged yourself.

Oct 11, 2011 03:37 AM

Why keep going through this? Find another Yuon judge and be done with it.

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