German lawyer Michael Bohlander has been appointed as the new international co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal by King Norodom Sihamoni, the tribunal announced in a statement Monday.
He replaces U.S. lawyer Mark Harmon, who resigned last month after fruitless efforts to have suspects in two government-opposed cases arrested.
The appointment of Judge Bohlander, who was the tribunal’s reserve international co-investigating judge, follows his nomination by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and approval by Cambodia’s Supreme Council of the Magistracy.
He is stepping into the politically sensitive post amid the foot-dragging of judicial police in the execution of arrest warrants that Judge Harmon issued for former Khmer Rouge navy chief Meas Muth and district commander Im Chaem in the tribunal’s cases 003 and 004. Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly vowed to not let the cases proceed to trial, fueling complaints of political interference.
Recently declassified court records showed that Judge Harmon had been trying to secure the two arrests for the past year, to no avail. In Meas Muth’s case, the judicial police said they have been studying the social impacts and opinions of locals before making an arrest.
Despite the controversy during his term, Judge Harmon cited unspecified “personal reasons” for his resignation last month.
Judge Harmon was appointed in 2012 to replace Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, who resigned citing “active opposition” to his efforts in pursuing cases 003 and 004 from his Cambodian counterpart at the tribunal, Judge You Bunleng.
Long Panhavuth, a consultant for the Cambodian Justice Initiative who monitors the tribunal, said a new judge would not make headway in the opposed cases until the U.N., which co-manages the court, clears up the political issues hindering progress.
“The problems of case three and four cannot be left on the shoulders of the international co-investigating judge; it depends on the political discussions between the government and the U.N.,” he said. “The U.N. needs to resolve this.”
Mr. Hun Sen has said he opposes the cases for fear that they will plunge the country back into civil war. Observers say he wants to end the tribunal before the cases strike too close to lower-level former Khmer Rouge officers currently serving in the government.
According to Monday’s statement from the tribunal, Judge Bohlander has been a professor at the U.K.’s Durham Law School since 2004. He served as a senior legal official for the trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia between 1999 and 2001.