Cambodia will not reverse a decision to veto the appointment of an international judge to the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, the government said Tuesday after talks with an expert from the world body failed to break the latest stalemate on the war crimes hearing.
An official spokesman said the government cannot overrule the decision made by country’s top judicial body which U.N. officials say is an apparent breach of an agreement on prosecuting ex-officials of the notorious Khmer Rouge regime.
Spokesman Phay Siphan said Cambodia’s Supreme Council of Magistracy has the final say on whether the government would accept the U.N.’s choice of Swiss Laurent Kasper-Ansermet as international co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, which is officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
The Supreme Council of Magistracy is headed by Cambodian King Norodom Sihamoni and determines all judicial appointments, transfers, promotions, suspensions or disciplinary actions.
“Cambodia’s view is that the Supreme Council of Magistracy’s decision can’t be ruled out or abused,” Phay Siphan said.
“So as partners, Cambodia and the United Nations will work together to find a suitable solution in response to the council’s decision.”
Phay Siphan refused to elaborate on the reasons behind the refusal.
The announcement came on the heels of talks Tuesday between the U.N. Secretary General’s Special Expert David Scheffer, who was dispatched to Cambodia to discuss Kasper-Ansermet’s rejection, and Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
Phay Siphan said that meeting failed to yield any progress on the appointment of the co-investigating judge because the two sides held “differing views.”
Cambodia’s Council of Ministers also released a statement which called the discussions “frank and constructive, covering a range of important issues facing the ECCC.”
“Although the Deputy Prime Minister [Sok An] and Special Expert [Scheffer] have differing views on the interpretations of the ECCC agreement, they intend to continue their close discussions on the most critical issues, and both remain optimistic that the court can achieve its mandate,” the statement said.
No specific date has been set to continue discussions between the two sides.
Last week, Cambodia’s Supreme Council of the Magistracy decided not to appoint Kasper-Ansermet as a joint investigating judge, prompting U.N. officials to call the decision a breach of the agreement under which the ECCC was formed in 2003.
In rejecting the U.N. choice, Cambodian officials said Kasper-Ansermet had used his Twitter account to draw attention to the debate on whether the tribunal should try two former Khmer Rouge military commanders.
The U.N. called the concerns “unfounded.”
But a Cambodian government spokesman defended the decision Monday, saying U.N. officials did not fully understand Cambodia’s rights according to the 2003 pact and that the authority to appoint the judge ultimately lay with the Supreme Council of Magistracy.
Kasper-Ansermet was meant to replace German judge Siegfried Blunk who resigned last October, citing political interference. Blunk had blocked moves to pursue the two cases without giving an explanation.
The Cambodian decision to reject the U.N. recommendation represents the latest obstacle in a tribunal process that has sought justice for some two million Cambodians who died through execution, torture, starvation, overwork, and disease while the ultra-Maoist regime ruled the country from 1975-1979.
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.
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 Zakariya Tin for RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.