Exclusive Interview with KRT Reserve Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet

The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Reserve Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet was thrust into the spotlight in October after the surprise resignation of his predecessor, Siegfried Blunk, and he hasn’t been far from it since. The Swiss judge has been refused a formal appointment by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy due to his use of Twitter, and he has publicly sparred with his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, over his right to work at the war crime tribunal. The dispute looks set to intensify as Judge Kasper-Ansermet moves forward alone with an investigation of cases 003 and 004, which are opposed by the government and Cambodian court staff. The Cambodia Daily’s Julia Wallace yesterday discussed his plans for investigating those cases, his relationship with Judge Bunleng, and whether he will ever tweet again.

Julia Wallace: You have said you intend to thoroughly investigate cases 003 and 004. What concrete steps are you taking to do so?

Judge Kasper-Ansermet: The first step was to reopen the investigation in Case 003. I did it, and it was very contested by my colleague, but now we have this Pre-Trial Chamber decision, from the international judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber. [Released Monday, it agreed that Judge Kasper-Ansermet had the right to proceed with investigating the case.] It’s a very detailed decision and it’s for me very important because I may refer to this decision. So now we do what we have to do in every case, all the work that was done in Case 002: identifying crime sites, investigating crime sites, interviewing witnesses, interviewing victims, civil parties. And this is for Case 003 as well as Case 004. We have to go forward.

Q: Have you attempted any field investigations? Have you had any trouble conducting the investigations given that you must rely on the cooperation of Cambodian staff such as translators and drivers, as well as investigators?

A: We have found some way of doing it, yes. I can’t be more precise. For the investigations themselves, as far as they are concerned, we don’t have any troubles. It would be of course much better if I get more Cambodian staff working, but in a way, for a while, it’s working. But as you know I am understaffed because I need to have more means to do the work and part of the team left during last year, so now I have to recruit–which I did already–and we have to get more people. I need more assistance in this way.

Q: So now you are attempting to re-hire some of the Cambodian investigators who have been terminated by co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng?

A: You know they expressed themselves in an article, they showed their interest to work again for the court, so we are examining this issue.

Q: Given the very public rift that has already emerged between you and You Bunleng, will you ever be able to work together effectively?

A: There is no real tension between him and me because I don’t see him and he doesn’t see me. He has stopped doing anything because he thinks he can’t speak with me, because if he speaks to me it is a way to recognize my ability to act. So he remains completely silent. Practically, now he has a position that we don’t meet, because he doesn’t take the risk to meet me, which could be interpreted as a recognition, an acknowledgement of my ability to act as a co-investigating judge.

Q: How realistic is it that these two cases will ever be fully investigated given the obvious challenges standing in your way, such as the fact that the Cambodian government is not likely to allow the suspects to be interviewed or detained?

A: There are some rules, of course, and we have to comply with the rules, so now I have a difficult procedural situation because as soon as I take a decision, given the position adopted by my colleague, I have to use disagreement procedure before the Pre-Trial Chamber. It’s heavier, it takes more time, but if everyone is playing his role it will enable me to investigate, in a way. I would like to know what will be the position of my colleague after this Pre-Trial Chamber decision–I think he should really carefully reconsider his position. For me it would be easier to investigate with him, as would normally be the case, but I remain optimistic. Even if there are so many people thinking it is in a way impossible, I would say, ‘No, if we comply with the law it is possible.’ I have no choice. My duty is to investigate the introductory submission from the co-prosecutors, and I have no choice. I am legally obligated to do it and I will assume this mission. I will do my best, and I don’t know which obstacles will stop me definitively, but this is my duty.

Q: What impact do you think the struggle over cases 003 and 004, the battle over your nomination, and your rift with your counterpart has had on the public perceptions of the tribunal? At this point, why should anyone believe in the court’s dignity and integrity anymore?

A: It’s difficult for me to answer because I don’t know what people think about it. I may imagine that it doesn’t give a very good picture of the court of course, but I don’t know really what people think. I would imagine that it doesn’t give a very good image of the court.

Q: The court is currently mired in a financial crisis that may be exacerbated by its very public problems with political interference. Have you met with donors to reassure them or discuss your plans for more investigations?

A: On this point I think we have to be clear. We took an oath and we have to respect the independence of the magistrate and preserve it. I don’t have to consider political or financial issues because we speak now as there are budget problems, and we have, of course, the political side of the cases, but I have to not care about it. I have to go my own way.

Q: You Bunleng has accused you of being a “press officer” rather than a judge. But your predecessor, Judge Blunk, was criticized for how little public information he released. How do you walk the line between keeping the public informed and being potentially indiscreet?

A: My colleague has made the choice to be completely silent, and now I don’t know if he in fact has something to say. I am in a completely different position because I think we have to inform people about what is happening in these contested cases, 003 and 004. We have different positions in this case. He may not want to speak because his position is–I mean, you know his position, I wouldn’t define it–but my position is different. I think we need to inform the victims, the people who suffered from all these crimes. They have the right to know what happens with this case and what will happen and what kind of information we have and want to seek. I think there is a duty for me to inform the people and that’s why I am coming with the media in a very soft way, a reasoned way, and I think it’s my duty to do it.

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