Dr Heng Vong Bunchhat has been chosen as the country’s candidate for the International Criminal Court and will serve, if elected, as a judge to try individuals accused of genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity.
The 59-year-old senior adviser to the government and a former deputy minister of justice was appointed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to serve as Cambodia’s candidate for the newly formed ICC in early November, according to the UN Web site.
He is among 45 other candidates from various countries who will be responsible for judging the guilt or innocence of any individual brought before the court.
Since the court is seeking a balanced representation of judges from around the world, and there are only six Asian countries submitting people to serve on the 18-member panel of judges, observers say Heng Vong Bunchhat has a good chance of being elected.
The court, launched in July, is the first permanent international body to prosecute crimes against humanity and genocide if responsible countries fail to take action.
Cambodia is only one of six Asian countries to ratify the ICC. The others are Mongolia, Cyprus, Samoa, the Republic of Korea and Fiji, according to the UN Web site.
More than 76 countries have approved the court, and another 139 have signed a statute establishing the court. So far, Africa has fielded 11 candidates; Eastern and Western Europe 19; and Latin America has presented nine.
Heng Vong Bunchhat could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
“Heng Vong Bunchhat is well-educated and suitable for the job,” said Neav Sithong, Minister of Justice and a member of the Supreme Council of Magistracy.
Suy Nou, secretary of state for the Ministry of Justice, also praised the appointment, saying, “I [think] he is knowledgeable and can discuss these matters with the international community.”
Heng Vong Bunchhat was educated in both Cambodia and France, according to the UN Web site. He received diplomas in political science and public law from the Faculty d’Aix in Provence, France, in the late 1960s and served on the Cambodian Counsel of Law in 1974 and then the Constitutional Council from 1974-75.
One issue that has arisen from his appointment is the lack of consultation between the prime minister and the top judicial bodies in Cambodia.
According to Neav Sithong, the appointment by Hun Sen was made without publicly consulting the Ministry of Justice or the members of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, the country’s top legal body. He did not, however, criticize this lack of consultation.
In contrast, the Canadian government wrote to universities, the Canadian Bar Association, and other interested bodies in its search for a candidate and chose its candidate, Philippe Kirsch, after “much consultation,” said Canadian Ambassador Stefanie Beck, on Thursday.
Another Western diplomat, who declined to be identified, said France’s candidate, Claude Jorda, was also chosen after conferring with interested parties.