Judge Marcel Lemonde, one of two investigating judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, is expected to rule next month on whether to begin one of the most complex war crimes trials ever prosecuted but his plans beyond this remain a secret.
For the better part of a year, the court has been rife with talk that he intends to resign after next month’s indictments and leave a replacement, possibly his little known understudy, the German judge Siegfried Blunk, to handle cases opened by UN prosecutors last year that have proved thorny due to government opposition.
UN spokesmen in Phnom Penh and New York have avoided questions about Judge Lemonde’s plans or whether any measures have been taken to bring about an orderly transition.
Lars Olsen, legal communications officer for the court, offered no direct answer yesterday, preferring to say instead that court staff were hard at work on the tribunal’s three remaining cases.
“This is a non-issue,” he said. Mr Olsen offered a similar answer in February. A UN spokesman in New York on Thursday would only say that no formal resignation process had yet begun.
However, a diplomat representing a donor country said Sunday that Judge Lemonde was widely expected to leave after the closure of the court’s second case.
“Certainly we’ve heard that he’s planning to leave,” said the diplomat.
UN staff members within Judge Lemonde’s office said over the weekend they were aware of the chatter concerning the judge’s plans but that no announcement had yet been made within their office. Multiple staff members within the office of the co-investigating judges are planning to leave at the completion of case 002, according to one staff member.
Judge Lemonde’s Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, said yesterday that if Judge Lemonde did plan to leave, he had not been informed.
“I have not received this information. If so, he would have announced it,” said Judge Bunleng.
After former Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit announced his resignation in June of last year, the American reserve prosecutor Paul Coffey did not replace him.
UN officials confidentially selected the British lawyer Andrew Cayley as a replacement in August but he was not appointed until December and took the oath in February of this year, about a year after Mr Petit first informed UN headquarters of his plans to leave.
Anne Heindel, a legal advisor to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said yesterday that in addition to the delays in replacing Mr Petit the court had had difficulty retaining and replacing staff at the victims support section and had yet to appoint the two lead co-lawyers expected to argue for all civil parties in the coming trials.
Judge Bunleng in June backed out of investigations opposed by the government but promised to revisit the matter in September. Ms Heindel said this could be complicated if no international judge were present to argue in favor of pressing ahead with cases three and four.
Ms Heindel said that, while it could be problematic to leave others in doubt, it could also be disruptive and distracting for Judge Lemonde to announce his departure at a time when he is focused on finalizing his work in what will be the court’s most important case.
“If there’s no plan in place and he plans to leave imminently, one would hope that he would give notice,” she said. “If he is leaving and there’s nothing being done about it, that’s very concerning.”
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)