The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s international co-prosecutor, Andrew Cayley, announced his resignation Monday—yet another upset for the beleaguered court as the first trial in Case 002 against senior Khmer Rouge leaders draws to a close.
The announcement came as 140 of the court’s Cambodian staff, whose salaries have gone unpaid for more than three months, are on strike and less than a week after the U.N. censured the Cambodian government for failing to fulfill its financial obligations to fund the war crimes tribunal.
“I will be leaving the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) for personal reasons on 16 September 2013. I will join my family who returned home from Cambodia in June 2013,” Mr. Cayley said in a prepared statement.
“It has been a great honor to be part of this historic process of bringing a measure of justice to the Cambodian people,” it states.
Reserve International Co-Prosecutor Nicholas Koumjian, an American lawyer who was previously the lead attorney in the trial of former Liberian President Charles Taylor, will replace Mr. Cayley in October, according to the statement.
Mr. Cayley, from the U.K., was named the court’s international co-prosecutor in December 2009. He previously served as the senior prosecuting counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, which is investigating crimes committed in Darfur, Sudan.
In an interview Monday, Mr. Cayley said that although the timing of the decision—just months before the first mini-trial in Case 002 is set to be completed—was not ideal, personal and professional reasons necessitated his departure from the court.
“I realize it’s not an ideal time for me to be leaving, but…I have family, personal and professional reasons for leaving now,” he said.
“I have been very proud of my time here,” he said. “I don’t feel any frustration or sense of guilt [about resigning].”
Mr. Cayley, along with his national counterpart Chea Leang, oversaw the only successful prosecution of a Khmer Rouge leader since the court was formed in 2007.
Chief of the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 prison Kaing Guek Eav, better known by his revolutionary name Duch, was given life in prison in February 2012.
Closing statements in the current Case 002, in which four senior regime members were originally indicted for a wide range of crimes against humanity including genocide, are due next month.
Out of the four defendants only Khmer Rouge Brother Number Two Nuon Chea and former head of state Khieu Samphan still remain on trial and a decision in the case against them is expected next year.
Ieng Sary, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister, died in March at the age of 88 and his wife Ieng Thirith, former social affairs minister, was deemed unfit to stand trial due to severe dementia in September 2012, at the age of 80.
Mr. Cayley said that his departure would not hinder the court’s ability to reach a decision in the first trial in Case 002, which is focused mainly on the forced movement of the population under the Khmer Rouge.
“The [co-prosecutors] office has a staff who have been working together for a long time. I have a deputy [William Smith] who has always really been the operational manager in the office. I think things will go on as normal,” he said.
And despite funding shortfalls on the national side of the tribunal, Mr. Cayley said there was “absolutely no doubt” Case 002 would see a conclusion.
Unlike his predecessor Robert Petit, who stepped down as co-prosecutor in June 2009, Mr. Cayley has largely avoided public disagreements with his national counterpart Ms. Leang during his time at the tribunal.
While Mr. Petit also cited personal reasons for his departure, his resignation came amid public disagreements with Ms. Leang over how many Khmer Rouge leaders would be tried by the court.
Since its inception in 2006, the court has been plagued by allegations of corruption and government interference.
Cambodian officials at the court, along with senior members of government, have publicly opposed the continuation of trials beyond Case 002, however, Mr. Cayley said investigations in those cases were ongoing.
“I do know that those investigations [in cases 003 and 004] are moving forward…. Investigators are on the ground and gathering evidence. Whether or not that will lead in the end to closing orders—indictments or dismissal orders—is a matter for the office of the co-investigating judges,” he said.
Court monitors said that the timing of Mr. Cayley’s decision to leave the court left a leadership void during the crucial final stages of what is the most important—and perhaps the final—trial at the ECCC.
“It is unfortunate that the International Prosecutor…will not be on board for the imminent closing arguments—assuming they are not postponed because of the current funding crisis,” Heather Ryan, a court monitor with the Open Society Justice Initiative, said in an email.
“While his presence is not critical to the concluding [of this] phase of the case, his absence will leave the appearance of a gap in leadership on the case,” she said, adding that the court needed “a capable and courageous international prosecutor to see it through the end of its mandate.”
Long Panhavuth, a trial monitor with the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said that he too was disappointed by Mr. Cayley’s exit, adding that the vague language used to justify his resignation raised questions about why he had decided to leave.
“It is unfortunate that he is leaving in the middle of the closing argument, which is very important, especially if you look at overall prosecution strategy. He should stay until the delivery of the judgment,” Mr. Panhavuth said.
“Is the real reason that he is leaving because of his personal reasons? Or maybe Andrew [Cayley] is leaving because he doesn’t want to be blamed for failure of Cases 003 and 004 as well as future trials of Case 002,” he added.
As the lead international prosecutor in the ECCC’s most high-profile trial, Mr. Cayley rarely appeared at the court, though he spent much of his time traveling abroad to drum up support for the ECCC, a decision criticized by Michael Karnavas, who headed Ieng Sary’s defense team until the defendant’s death earlier this year.
“Regrettably, Mr. Cayley never led from the front, as he publicly promised. He was rarely in court,” Mr. Karnavas said.
“The ECCC deserves much more commitment and perseverance from the top international prosecutors than it has seen from either Mr. Petit or Mr. Cayley,” Mr. Karnavas added.
Mr. Cayley said that he had no regrets about spending much of his time outside the court.
“I spent a lot of my time trying to keep the court afloat and making its role understood both here and overseas and I believe that was time well spent,” he said.