Mark Harmon, the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s international co-investigating judge, announced Tuesday that he was stepping down from his position following almost a year of inaction by judicial police in executing arrest warrants in two government-opposed cases.
Recently declassified documents show Judge Harmon has, since August, repeatedly and unsuccessfully attempted to secure the arrest of former Khmer Rouge navy chief Meas Muth and district commander Im Chaem in cases 003 and 004.
In a statement released Tuesday, however, the judge said “personal reasons” were behind the decision.
“It is with considerable regret that I have tendered my resignation, for strictly personal reasons, with effect as of the date upon which my successor has been sworn into office,” Judge Harmon said in the statement.
“It was an honor to have been selected to serve as the International Co-Investigating Judge in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and…to pursue justice on behalf of the many victims who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge,” he said.
Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said that no date had been set for Judge Harmon’s departure, and insisted that the decision had “nothing to do with the more recent development in the cases.”
“The resignation was tendered more than two months ago, so that’s why I would like to emphasize this has nothing to do with the more recent development in the cases,” Mr. Olsen said.
Heavy criticism was first leveled at the U.N. and the government over the tribunal’s failure to secure the arrests of Im Chaem and Meas Muth shortly after Judge Harmon charged the pair in absentia on March 3.
His decision followed police inaction on arrest warrants for the pair in August and December, respectively. On Monday, a declassified document released by the court revealed further arrest warrants issued by Judge Harmon were ignored by judicial police last month.
Judge Harmon, an American prosecutor who worked for 17 years at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, was appointed as international co-investigating judge at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia in July 2012.
His predecessor, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, resigned months earlier, saying that National Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng’s “active opposition” to investigations had obstructed his efforts to investigate the government-opposed cases.
Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s predecessor, Siegfried Blunk, stepped down in October 2011 amid mounting criticism after he and Judge Bunleng closed their investigation into Case 003 without interviewing key witnesses or conducting crime site investigations.
Like his predecessor, much of Judge Harmon’s tenure will be defined by his relationship with Judge Bunleng, who has refused to assist his international counterparts in investigating cases 003 and 004.
In addition to pressing ahead to charge both Im Chaem and Meas Muth, Judge Harmon also charged former Central Zone deputy secretary Ta An in late March over crimes committed during the Pol Pot era.
Anne Heindel, co-author of the book “Hybrid Justice: The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia,” said past experiences offered no hope that Judge Harmon’s successor would succeed in pursuing investigations in the controversial cases.
“Four international Co-Investigating Judges have been stymied by cases 003 and 004 for nearly six years. Just like his predecessors, Judge Harmon never had the support of the Cambodian side of the court in investigating these cases,” Ms. Heindel said in an email.
“His successor won’t either. The inability to secure new arrests is the continuation of an unbroken pattern of obstruction by the government, and without question a breach of its treaty obligations,” she added.
Ms. Heindel said Judge Harmon, compared with his predecessors, proved himself to be an “ideal U.N. appointee” in his time as co-investigating judge.
“Judge Blunk didn’t do the work; Judge Kasper-Ansermet generated controversy. Judge Harmon did the work, he was diplomatic with his Cambodian counterpart, and he didn’t speak to journalists about the difficulties he confronted,” she said.
“From an institutional perspective, he was the ideal U.N. appointee.”