The chain of events that caused the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s co-investigating judges to announce their disagreement this week on new probes of Pol Pot regime suspects may have been telling in itself.
Under pressure from his French counterpart, Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng signed orders on Friday to begin new investigations.
But when this became public on Tuesday, Judge Bunleng had a change of heart, notifying his French colleague that he had crossed out his signature from rogatory letters that empower investigators, claiming he would rethink the matter in September, three months from now.
Judge Marcel Lemonde is now to proceed without the support of his Cambodian colleague in the politically charged investigation that government officials have already said should not go ahead.
For Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, the events preserved a chance that the new investigations will proceed at all.
“So far, nobody said no,” he said yesterday, adding that the debate between the judges had also dragged a difficult subject out into the open. “I think by having this debate, it helped to solve the sensitivity of the issue.”
However, if the UN side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Office of the Co-Investigating Judges seeks to work on its own, it may encounter difficulties, Mr Chhang said. “If the team splits, you’re not going to get much out of the field,” he said.
In seeking the testimony of six senior CPP witnesses in September, Judge Lemonde acted without Judge Bunleng but his directions were openly flouted.
Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, declined yesterday to discuss any individual tribunal officer but said the government was legally bound to cooperate with the war crimes court as a whole.
“We cooperate with the institution. We don’t cooperate with one person,” he said.
According to a memo released by the tribunal on Wednesday, Judge Lemonde said last week it was “not possible” to issue criminal charges or to arrest and detain any new Khmer Rouge suspects before September, when the judges are to decide on whether to indict its current five detainees in the court’s second case.
In the meantime, investigators should begin “crime base” inquiries at particular sites to examine the basic circumstances of prosecutor’s allegations at particular locations, Judge Lemonde said in reference to the new investigations.
Thun Saray, president of the human rights organization Adhoc, said yesterday that both judges appeared to have their motives but that it was too early to say whether Judge Bunleng was unwilling to brave the controversy of the new investigations.
“It’s too early to say. We have to wait and see until September what his position will be,” Mr Saray said.