UN ‘Concerned’ by Judge’s Resignation

The world body plans to investigate why a second judge has quit a Cambodian tribunal.
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The courtroom at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, June 27, 2011.
The courtroom at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, June 27, 2011.

The United Nations voiced “serious concern” Tuesday after a second judge it had appointed to a Cambodian war crimes court tendered his resignation, citing obstruction of his efforts to investigate additional cases against former Khmer Rouge members.

Swiss co-investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet said he would leave the tribunal, known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), after being repeatedly “blocked” by his Cambodian counterpart Judge You Bunleng from pursuing a third and fourth case.

“The situation at the ECCC continues to be of serious concern and the United Nations is examining it closely,” U.N. spokesperson Eduardo del Buey told reporters in New York on Tuesday.

Kasper-Ansermet was appointed to the court as a reserve judge by the U.N. Secretary General after his predecessor, German Judge Siegfried Blunk, stepped down in October blaming government interference.

But the decision to appoint him was vetoed by Cambodia’s highest judicial 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 January, the U.N. ruled that Kasper-Ansermet could proceed with his mandate to investigate cases at the tribunal, despite Cambodia’s decision to veto him, saying the judicial body’s approval was “not necessary.”

The Cambodian government defended its decision, saying that 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.

‘Dysfunctional situation’

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 planned to conduct interviews with civil parties the week beginning March 19.

But the ECCC said on Monday 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.

Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s resignation will take effect on May 4, 2012.

The U.N. has not said whether it has a replacement judge to take over proceedings in his stead, but experts have said they believe any appointee would face similar difficulties in proceeding with further cases.

Mired in allegations

The ECCC 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.

But 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 Joshua Lipes.





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