A United Nations-appointed judge can proceed with his mandate to investigate cases at the Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal in Cambodia, despite a decision by the country’s top judiciary body to veto him, a U.N. expert said Wednesday.
Special expert on U.N. assistance to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal David Scheffer, who had been dispatched to Phnom Penh to discuss the issue, said it is “not necessary” for Cambodia’s judiciary to approve Swiss judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet as international co-investigating judge for the prosecutions.
Scheffer said the U.N. would welcome the Cambodian government’s acceptance of the judge though, as it would signify “cooperation” on the tribunal, which is officially known as the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).
“Our view is this particular individual, Judge Kasper-Ansermet, has clear authority to fulfill duties in this country and we look forward to him doing so,” he said at a press conference following four days of meetings which included a discussion with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An.
A Cambodian government spokesman said Wednesday that the country’s judiciary did have a choice on whether or not to approve the judge, but that the government would speak with the U.N. to “solve this kind of problem,” according to German news agency Deutsch Presse-Agentur.
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 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.
Mired in allegations
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 RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.