The Supreme Council of Magistracy selected its final national and international Khmer Rouge tribunal appointees as planned on Thursday morning, and sent the confidential list to King Norodom Sihamoni for approval, Justice Minister Ang Vong Vathana said.
“We approved the 13 foreign and 17 Cambodian judges and prosecutors,” he said. “I don’t know whether it is a success or not yet. It will be a success when there is a tribunal,” he added.
Voice of America on Thursday published the names of 18 Cambodian and 12 international court officials on its Web site who it said had been nominated. VOA offered no explanation for the disparity between its reported number of nominated officials and Ang Vong Vathana’s stated number.
The VOA list includes three Cambodian court officials who have been involved in some of the most contentious rulings in Cambodia’s recent history.
Thong Ol, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court investigating judge who questioned Beehive radio owner Mam Sonando before he was charged and jailed for alleged defamation in October, is set to serve as the tribunal’s reserve co-investigating judge, VOA reported.
The charges against Mam Sonando drew strong criticism from human rights groups, who noted that he had not made the offending remarks himself and that they were not defamatory in the first place. Mam Sonando was released from detention in January.
Contacted by telephone, Thong Ol said he was unaware that his name was on the list and declined to comment further.
Military Court Presiding Judge Ney Thol, who presided over the August trial of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy, is slated to serve in the tribunal’s pre-trial chambers, VOA reported. It did not say in what capacity he would serve.
Cheam Channy was convicted in August of organizing a so-called illegal armed force and sentenced to seven years in jail for fraud and sedition by Ney Thol.
Announcing the verdict, Ney Thol told the court that Cheam Channy “had seriously affected national defense, national security and damaged the military’s interests.”
The US, the UN, the European Union and the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of 21 NGOs and international rights organizations, condemned Ney Thol’s ruling.
Cheam Channy was freed in February after being in prison for more than a year.
Asked whether he would serve as an official in the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Ney Thol said he didn’t know anything.
Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Ya Sakhon, who in December 2004 sentenced three men to life in prison for plotting to bomb the US and British embassies in Phnom Penh, is slated as a judge in the tribunal’s lower court, VOA reported.
Local Muslims decried the 2004 ruling, calling the proceeding a show trial to appease the US and British governments, while human rights workers said evidence against the three was flimsy.
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath would neither confirm nor deny whether the judicial officials named on VOA’s list were those chosen by the Supreme Council of Magistracy. He said the official list would be sent to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan for notification, though he added that Annan will not have the power to veto any names.
The final, official list of appointed judges and prosecutors is scheduled to be announced to the public at a news conference Wednesday, he added. He said he expected judges to begin their investigations in June and expected trial proceedings to begin in early 2007.
According to a release issued by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, the official name of the Khmer Rouge tribunal, council members were “faced with a challenging task in choosing candidates from among so many highly qualified nominations.”
The release added that all chosen judges have “a history of professionalism, high moral character and familiarity with humanitarian and human rights law.”
But some voiced concern about the possible participation of some of those on the VOA list.
Legal expert Lao Mong Hay said he was particularly disappointed by Ney Thol’s appointment. “He will not enhance the reputation of the Khmer Rouge tribunal,” he said.
Municipal Court Director Chiv Keng said Wednesday that Cambodian judges follow a code of conduct and will act professionally during the tribunal.