Failure to Confirm Stalls Tribunal

The Cambodian government sits on a UN request to confirm a replacement judge at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.
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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
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

The United Nations and nongovernmental groups have taken Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration to task for delaying the confirmation of a U.N.-appointed judge to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal amid charges that the government does not want the trial to go forward.

In a Jan. 12 statement, the Cambodian government denied the charge, saying that it is following "normal procedures" in considering the appointment.

The Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based group which has been monitoring the tribunal proceedings since they began in 2007, said  the delay in confirming Swiss reserve judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet has stifled proceedings against defendants accused of genocide under the murderous Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled Cambodia from 1975-79.

“The Open Society Justice Initiative is deeply concerned over the Royal Cambodian Government’s failure to confirm the appointment of the international co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia,”  the group said in a statement this week.

Failure to confirm the appointment “has created yet another impasse in the progress of judicial investigations into five suspects (known as Cases 003 and 004),” the group said.

The suspects are “alleged to have committed an array of international crimes,” the group added.


Under the terms of the agreement between the U.N. and Cambodia that established the Tribunal, the U.N. sent judge Kasper-Ansermet to Phnom Penh last month to replace German judge Siegfried Blunk, who resigned in October after accusing the Cambodian government of interfering in the court’s work.

“The United Nations has since made every effort to secure the appointment of the judge,” U.N. spokesman Martin Nesirky told Agence France-Presse.

Cambodia is required to appoint the previously selected reserve judge to fill the vacancy left by Blunk’s departure, Nesirky said.

But in a Jan. 12 statement, the Office of the Council of Ministers of the Cambodian government denied "obstructing or delaying" confirmation of the appointment.

"The matter is now in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM), which is now independently carrying [out] its normal procedures and legal considerations before a decision [can] be made," it said.

Blunk’s Cambodian counterpart on the Tribunal, Judge You Bunleng, has vowed not to cooperate with, or recognize actions taken by, Kasper-Anserment until his appointment is officially confirmed.

The Swiss judge has meanwhile accused You Bunleng of blocking “important” information concerning the five defendants whose cases have now stalled.

One trial so far

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 in 2010 of former Khmer Rouge prison chief Kaing Guek Eav for 30 years for overseeing the deaths of thousands of people.

The Khmer Rouge regime has been blamed for the deaths of approximately  1.7 million Cambodians through execution, torture, starvation, overwork, and disease.

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.

Reported by Richard Finney.





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