Court verges on ‘embracing impunity,’ legal advocacy group says
Sounding a note of alarm, the Open Society Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy group that monitors the Khmer Rouge tribunal, called yesterday for UN inquiries into alleged judicial misconduct and political interference at the court.
Moribund investigations into genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been entrusted to judges who appear to be in violation of their oaths and who may have acted on outside orders to do away with cases that are opposed by the Cambodian government, OSJI said in its most recent report on the court’s activities.
The report also said that the UN and the court’s donors had done nothing to protect the court’s integrity and suggested that the dismissal of the court’s current investigations suited their interests.
Yuko Maeda, a UN spokeswoman for the tribunal, said yesterday that the court had no comment. The judges have in the past rejected accusations of outside influence.
The report follows the desertion of the tribunal’s investigative office by its UN legal team, who are departing in frustration at the co-investigating judges’ failure to investigate a case involving Pol Pot’s armed forces and tens of thousands of deaths.
The mounting outcry over the apparent suppression of the cases, which reportedly concern hundreds of thousands of deaths and an untold number of surviving victims, comes as the court prepares to celebrate its greatest success.
In twelve days, Pol Pot’s surviving coterie are at last to stand trial for their leadership of Democratic Kampuchea and their revolution’s bloody transformation of Cambodia into a “prison without walls.”
But the trial, expected to take years of arduous work, arrives amid the standing accusation, now shared by some of the tribunal’s own staff, that as the court brings the Khmer Rouge movement to justice it is also actively whitewashing a large share of its crimes.
In the report released yesterday, OSJI said the court’s failure to uphold the law and the principles of judicial conduct in Case 003, an investigation of the Khmer Rouge military, put it “on the verge of officially embracing impunity.”
The report reiterated long-standing allegations that Judges Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleng had simply refused to investigate their current caseload.
It also alleged that, as the media reports began to indicate that they had done little in the case, the judges office had begun “stuffing the Case 003 file with ‘evidence’ from the Case 002 file” to lend it the appearance of an actual investigation.
“This not simply a case in which a judge has exercised his discretion in good faith but in a manner with which others may disagree,” the report said.
The actions of Judges Blunk and Bunleng “suggest that the outcome of a case has been predetermined and that judges have refused to gather evidence or investigate facts, possibly in response to repeated and publicly expressed demands of senior leadership.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly insisted that both of the court’s current investigations will not be allowed to occur, continuing a position he has held for a decade.
The case concluded on April 29 concerned Khmer Rouge navy commander Meas Muth and air force commander Sou Met, who is currently an adviser to RCAF high command. Both have denied any wrongdoing but are suspected in the bloody purges of the military as well as forced labor and other crimes.
Given the jurisprudence of other courts and record of their involvement in Khmer Rouge crimes, “it is difficult to comprehend how senior officials such as Meas Muth and Sou Met could legitimately be found not to fall under” the court’s mandate, the report said.
The report recommended that Gabriela Carina Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, the current UN special rapporteur on judicial independence, assess the independence of the court’s judges, in particular Judges Blunk and Bunleng.
It also called on donors to condition funding on guarantees of judicial independence. Donors have emphasized the importance of the case going to trial this month, implying that preserving Case 002 “may require ceding the ability to proceed with Cases 003 and 004.”
The US Embassy yesterday did not directly respond to these assertions, saying it was committed to helping the government and the UN hold the Khmer Rouge to account.
“The United States will do what we can to work with the Cambodian government, with the United Nations, and the international community to ensure that we have the resources needed to proceed with Case 002, which now appears ready to go ahead,” spokesman Mark Wenig wrote in an e-mail.