Acting on his own, French Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde last month summoned Cambodia’s ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs and the presidents of the Senate and National Assembly to testify at the Khmer Rouge tribunal as witnesses, according to letters published yesterday by the court.
In the letters dated Sept 25, Judge Lemonde sought the testimonies of Senate and CPP President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, Minister of Foreign Affairs Hor Namhong, Minister of Finance Keat Chhon, and CPP senators Ouk Bunchhoeun and Sim Ka, the latter of whom is a member of the ruling party’s permanent committee.
The letters, in which the signature of Judge Lemonde’s Cambodian counterpart Judge You Bunleng is conspicuously absent, come two months after the government refused to accept letters, also signed only by Judge Lemonde, seeking the testimony of retired King Norodom Sihanouk.
It was unclear yesterday whether any of the witnesses summoned would agree to appear before the court or why Judge Lemonde acted solo in seeking their testimony.
The letters made no mention of Prime Minister Hun Sen, whose testimony, along with those of Mr Samrin and Mr Sim, was sought in a request by defense lawyers for Brother Number Two Nuon Chea lodged with the co-investigating judges in February.
In a report issued in May, judicial monitor Open Society Justice Initiative claimed that sources within the court had said the government was “attempting to block the investigating judges from interviewing certain ‘insider’ or high-level witnesses” who could be embarrassed if called to testify about their experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime.
Judge Bunleng could not be reached yesterday evening. Judge Lemonde referred questions to the court’s public affairs office. However in May, Judge Lemonde repeated earlier statements according to which he said he had suffered no undue influence.
“I have said and repeated that I came here to do the work of a judge and that if I could not do it, I would leave,” he wrote in an e-mail at the time.
Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the tribunal, said yesterday he had no information concerning the possibility of any disagreement between the two judges, nor did he know why only Judge Lemonde had signed the letters.
He added that despite having been signed by only one co-investigating judge each summons “is legally valid.”
In his letters to National Assembly President Heng Samrin and Senate President Chea Sim, Mr Lemonde said their testimonies had been sought by defense lawyers.
Letters to the senators, Mr Ka and Mr Bunchhoeun, said the summonses were spurred by interviews they had given to an unnamed researcher in August of 1990.
In his letter to Finance Minister Keat Chhon, Mr Lemonde said his summons arose from public statements Mr Chhon had made on Dec 13, 2006.
In response to prodding questions from SRP leader Sam Rainsy, who called Mr Chhon “Pol Pot’s secretary and adviser,” Mr Chhon said on the floor of the National Assembly that day that he would answer questions about his past.
“If I, Keat Chhon, am called upon to answer to the Cambodian people and nation about my past, I will answer,” he told lawmakers.
“When [Sam Rainsy] can’t find anything to attack me on, he raises my personal life to attack me. It is wrong…. We have the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia]. Let them judge.”
Judge Lemonde’s letter gave no explanation for summoning Foreign Affairs Minister Hor Namhong, whose attorneys in France are today to defend a January verdict by a Paris criminal court which ruled that Mr Rainsy had libeled Mr Namhong by publishing allegations concerning the minister’s actions under the Khmer Rouge.
Mr Bunchhoeun said yesterday he had not been served with his summons.
“I did not see the letter,” he said. “I cannot comment before I see the letter.”
Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong also said he was unaware of the matter and could not provide a response before today.
Efforts to contact Mr Samrin, Mr Ka and Mr Chhon were unsuccessful. Senate Secretary-General Um Sarith referred questions to Mr Sim’s Cabinet, where officials could not be reached.