No hope for justice if Blunk, Bunleng stay on, HRW says
Human Rights Watch yesterday called for the resignation of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s investigating judges, saying they had “egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties” by failing to properly investigate two cases opposed by the government.
The New York-based rights group also called on the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs to launch a formal investigation into the judges’ alleged misconduct and the UN’s oversight of the tribunal, saying that without such an inquest, the court’s “final shreds of credibility will be lost.”
Co-Investigating Judges Siegfried Blunk and You Bunleng have been under fire for months over their refusal to thoroughly investigate cases 003 and 004, which Prime Minister Hun Sen vociferously opposes.
In April, the judges closed their investigation into Case 003—in which two Khmer Rouge military commanders, Sou Met and Meas Muth, are accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity—without even interviewing the two suspects or examining crime scenes.
When the tribunal’s Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley tried to compel them to take remedial steps in the investigation, the judges refused based on a technicality. They are widely expected to issue an order soon dismissing the case.
The judges appear to have done similarly questionable work in Case 004, which is still technically open for investigation. UN staffers have resigned from the investigating judges’ office en masse since April, with some citing the dubious investigations as the impetus for their departure.
“This would be shocking for an ordinary crime, but it’s unbelievable when it involves some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities,” said Brad Adams, Asia director for Human Rights Watch, in a statement. “The Cambodian people have no hope of seeing justice for mass murder as long as these judges are involved.”
Human Rights Watch went on to criticize the judges’ “outrageous” treatment of victims, who have been refused the right to become civil parties even after they presented seemingly ironclad applications.
One of those victims, Rob Hamill, said yesterday he supported the call for the judges to resign.
Mr Hamill’s brother, Kerry, was captured off the southern coast of Cambodia in 1978 and ultimately murdered. Although prosecutors explicitly identified the capture of foreign nationals as a crime in Case 003, Mr Hamill’s application to seek reparations in the case was rejected by Judges Blunk and Bunleng, who said his suffering was not sufficiently “direct”.
“Resigning is the only decent thing the judges, particularly Blunk-whose actions have been particularly repugnant-can do now. Unless they change their rulings, of course,” Mr Hamill said in an e-mail.
Judge Blunk did not respond to a request for comment, while Judge Bunleng hung up on a reporter.
Speaking on behalf of the two judges, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said: “The co-investigating judges will continue to perform their duties independently. The ECCC proceedings have built-in checks and balances. Any decision by the co-investigating judges, when made, can be appealed to the Pre-Trial Chamber.”
However, the Pre-Trial Chamber is made up of three Cambodian and two international judges, making it unlikely that the chamber would produce a result contrary to the stated wishes of the Cambodian government.
“Since the ECCC was established, the Cambodian judges in the five-member Pre-Trial chamber have consistently toed the government’s line,” Human Rights Watch wrote in the statement.
HRW also blasted the UN for failing to respond to the serious allegations against the judges, even as its involvement in the tribunal lends credibility to the endeavor.
“UN participation and oversight has been seen as essential to making the ECCC a fair and competent tribunal because of the UN’s ability to bring professionalism and impartiality to the process. That assumption is now in question,” HRW stated.
A spokesman for the UN Secretary-General’s office and the Office of Legal Affairs did not immediately respond to questions.
(Additional reporting by Neou Vannarin)