Reserve investigating judge says situation has paralyzed office
The government still has no plans to convene a meeting of the Supreme Council of the Magistracy to appoint the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s new investigating judge, more than a month after the UN secretary-general explicitly requested that it do so.
A Justice Ministry official insisted this week that the UN had not yet asked for a meeting of the council, contradicting statements from the tribunal.
“I don’t know when the meeting will be held,” said Sam Pracheameanith, Cabinet chief for Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana. “The UN has not requested it yet. We haven’t seen a request from the UN. The UN should file a request, because the foreign judge is under the control of the UN and the UN has to request the appointment.”
By law, the Cambodian justice minister is responsible for convening meetings of the council, which is chaired by King Norodom Sihamoni. Until the council has met to approve the appointment of Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet of Switzerland, he cannot formally take up his position as the tribunal’s co-investigating judge and will remain technically a “reserve judge.”
Ouk Savouth, prosecutor-general at the Court of Appeal and a member of the council, also said he knew of no plans to hold a meeting in the near future.
“As I remember, the Ministry of Justice has not yet made a request [to convene],” he said. Mr. Savouth was unaware of any UN request to convene a meeting.
But according to Lars Olsen, a UN spokesman for the tribunal, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon wrote to the government in mid-November to request that the council convene.
“He has nominated Judge Kasper-Ansermet, and he has written to the government requesting a meeting, and this was done in November,” Mr. Olsen said.
Judge Kasper-Ansermet quietly arrived in Phnom Penh on Dec 1, but said in a statement last week that he had been working from abroad in his capacity as reserve judge since Nov 14. Neither the UN nor the tribunal has officially announced his arrival.
Complicating the matter further is the fact that both ECCC Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang and Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng sit on the Supreme Council of the Magistracy, and will apparently be involved in approving their colleague’s nomination.
In a statement sent to the media last week, Judge Bunleng said he did not believe Judge Kasper-Ansermet had the right to start working without an appointment from the Supreme Council. He also attacked his future counterpart for sending out a press statement without consulting him.
This tension between the UN’s views on Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s status and Judge Bunleng’s own views may now be affecting the work of the Office of Co-Investigating Judges. As co-head of the office, Judge Bunleng must collaborate closely with his international counterpart.
“I have to say that I am very much concerned with the paralysis that affects the Office of Co-Investigating Judges due to the current situation,” Judge Kasper-Ansermet wrote in an email yesterday.
His predecessor, Siegfried Blunk, resigned abruptly in mid-October amid a blitz of negative publicity over his investigation of two government-opposed cases, 003 and 004, before the tribunal.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top officials have been adamant that the cases—which involve five mid-level Khmer Rouge officials accused of complicity in the deaths of thousands—must not move forward.
Cambodian jurists at the tribunal have also expressed opposition to the cases, which have not gained much traction since being forwarded to the Office of Co-Investigating Judges in September 2009. Case 003 was closed abruptly in April after a bare-bones investigation.
Although Judge Kasper-Ansermet has spoken to the media only sparingly since being thrust into the spotlight, he is an avid user of the social media site Twitter, and his postings have left observers with the impression that he disagreed with many of the choices made by Judges Blunk and Bunleng regarding cases 003 and 004.