Nuon Chea calls for investigation; rights groups want UN to act
Just hours after the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s German investigating judge shocked observers by quitting his job over political interference on Monday, defense lawyers for Brother Number Two Nuon Chea appealed to the Supreme Court Chamber to order a full investigation into the court’s lack of independence.
Citing Judge Siegfried Blunk’s resignation, the appeal asks the Supreme Court Chamber for an independent and public examination of alleged attempts by government officials to meddle in the work of the court.
Judge Blunk’s resignation statement referred to comments by Prime Minister Hun Sen, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong apparently forbidding judges to pursue two government-opposed cases, known as 003 and 004.
“The judges of this Chamber can and should investigate all outstanding allegations of [government] interference (and, if necessary, sanction those responsible),” Nuon Chea’s lawyers wrote. “The material facts—much like Hun Sen, Khieu Kanharith, and, only recently, Siegfried Blunk—speak for themselves.”
“In light of Judge Blunk’s resignation, the Chamber cannot
credibly dismiss the allegations underlying the [request].”
Nuon Chea’s legal team has already made several failed bids to launch an investigation into government interference, starting after six senior Cambodian lawmakers and officials flouted summonses to provide evidence to investigating judges in mid-2009.
In September last year, the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber split along national lines in rejecting the request. The three Cambodian jurists in the chamber said an investigation was not necessary, but Judges Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France and Rowan Downing of Australia issued a strongly worded minority opinion, saying that defendants at the Khmer Rouge tribunal were indeed less likely to get fair trials due to political interference.
Since then, the government’s public comments on the court have only gotten stronger. The prime minister told visiting UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in October 2010 that cases 003 and 004 were “not allowed.” And Mr Namhong last week told a visiting French diplomat that the arrest of additional Khmer Rouge leaders “must be decided by Cambodia.”
At a press briefing yesterday, Mr Namhong claimed he had simply been trying to make a point about national reconciliation, not interfere in the work of the court. The prime minister has in the past expressed a belief that pursuing additional suspects could plunge Cambodia back into civil war.
“I said that the government of Cambodia has to respond to issues involving the fate of the nation: peace, security, national reconciliation or bringing war back,” Mr Namhong told reporters. “The government has a right to express that, if this court rules to bring war or insecurity to Cambodia, who is responsible for that thing?… If we build a bridge and then they use explosives to blow it up, how can we develop construction?”
Meanwhile, two rights groups have exhorted the UN to either secure a guarantee of the tribunal’s independence from the Cambodian government or pull out of the joint endeavor altogether.
Sam Zarifi, Asia-Pacific director of Amnesty International, said the circumstances of Judge Blunk’s resignation, and the poor quality of the investigations he had conducted in cases 003 and 004, could undermine the entire tribunal.
“It’s vital that the UN acts to safeguard the tribunal’s future…. The UN should seek guarantees from the Cambodian government that it will not interfere in its proceedings, and make clear that any attempts to influence the work of the ECCC will force the UN to review its involvement,” he said.
The Open Society Justice Initiative issued a similar call, saying in a statement that without a public guarantee of independence from Mr Hun Sen, “the UN should reassess its commitment to the court.”
It also asked the UN to open an inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct by Judge Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, who are accused of bowing to government pressure in their investigations of cases 003 and 004.
In response to questions on Judge Blunk’s resignation, Mr Ban’s spokesman Martin Nesirsky reiterated the UN’s previous statement on the issue, adding only: “We will continue to monitor the situation at the ECCC closely, including in consultation with the Royal Government.”
Like the UN, the court’s donors remained conspicuously silent yesterday. The French and Japanese embassies did not respond to requests for comment, while the US offered only a general statement on the court and did not address questions on Judge Blunk’s resignation, or future US funding of the tribunal.
“The United States continues to urge the Tribunal to uphold the highest standards of integrity and impartiality, and to protect the Tribunal’s independence,” wrote assistant public affairs officer Michelle Bennett in an e-mail.
The German Embassy was even more terse, writing in an e-mail that it had no comment on the court’s “internal matters.”
Judge Blunk’s scheduled replacement, reserve Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet of Switzerland, could not be reached for comment.
However, using the social networking medium Twitter, he has frequently shared critical articles about the situation at the court over the past few months, including a Human Rights Watch report issued last week that called for Judges Blunk and Bunleng to resign.
“Co-investigating judges ‘have egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties,’” he said in a Twitter message on Oct 4, quoting from the report and providing a link to it.
In June, quoting from a French media report, he wrote: “The Khmer Rouge tribunal is passing through a crisis without precedent in the history of international justice.”
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng)