Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that if Cambodian government interference in the progression of the long-delayed Khmer Rouge tribunal does not end, the UN should withdraw its support.
The outspoken New York-based rights group alleged in a statement that high-level government officials instructed Cambodian members of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to delay the adoption of crucial internal rules, which had been scheduled for adoption Nov 25. Without those rules, which govern the roles of victims, witnesses, and defense lawyers, a Khmer Rouge trial cannot proceed. No date has yet been set for their adoption.
ECCC officials denied Human Rights Watch’s allegations Tuesday.
“Political interference has brought the whole process to a screeching halt,” Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said in the statement obtained Tuesday.
The allegation was met with denials from members of the Cambodian side of the court.
ECCC officials have said the plenary discussions on the internal rules broke down largely along national lines, with the Cambodian and international sides of the court unable to agree on how to integrate international and Cambodian law.
Thou Mony, an ECCC trial chamber judge, said Rights Watch’s allegations of political tinkering were untrue. “We only demand compliance with Cambodian law,” he said. “We also have our sovereignty,” he added.
Helen Jarvis, ECCC chief of public affairs, said the government was not responsible for the delay in adopting the rules. “The Extraordinary Chambers are in the courts of Cambodia,” she said. “This makes them different from other hybrid and international courts. There are serious issues to work through. I believe both sides are entering into the negotiations in good faith.”
Human Rights Watch claimed in their statement that government officials had orchestrated the appointment of Cambodian judges, prosecutors, and security officials to the ECCC who are loyal to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Cabinet Minister Sok An, and National Police Chief Hok Lundy.
Rights Watch also alleged in the statement that ECCC Supreme Court Judge Kong Srim led the “obstructionist tactics” during the plenary discussions.
Human Rights Watch did not cite a source to support their claims.
Seng Savorn, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, declined to comment on Right Watch’s allegations, while Kong Srim could not be reached for comment.
ECCC Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang said Rights Watch’s allegations were untrue.
“[Kong Srim] doesn’t have enough influence to obstruct the process,” she said. “He is not a Khmer working alone,” she added. “There are more than 10 countries participating.”
Human Rights Watch also said that the Cambodian Bar Association played a politically charged role in attacking the ECCC’s proposed Defense Office, headed by UN-appointee Rupert Skilbeck, despite repeated pledges by the government to allow foreign lawyers full participation in the defense.
The Cambodian Bar Association warned its members last month that they would violate Cambodian law if they attended a training course offered by the Defense Office and the International Bar Association.
Ly Tayseng, Secretary-General of the Cambodian Bar Association, said the bar was independent and aimed merely to ensure compliance with the law.
“We want to see that the trial process moves forward,” he said. “We just want to ensure every part of the process is in compliance with Cambodian law and international treaties.”
He said the bar was not opposed to allowing foreign lawyers to practice at the ECCC, but that they must do so in accordance with Cambodian law, which he said requires them to register and be approved by the bar association.
Several NGOs have expressed concern that requiring foreign lawyers to register with the bar or prohibiting them from acting as lead lawyers could undermine a defendant’s right to a qualified and impartial defense team for the tribunal.
Human Rights Watch said this latest delay is part of a pattern of Cambodian obstructionism dating back to the late 1990s, when the UN and Prime Minister Hun Sen began negotiations to form a tribunal and prosecute the old and increasingly frail former Khmer Rouge leaders.
“The international community needs to follow the Cambodian tribunal closely,” Adams said in the statement.
“We want this tribunal to succeed. But if it becomes clear that the process is hopelessly politicized and obstructed, then the UN should withdraw its support to avoid becoming involved in a substandard trial that would be a disservice to itself and to millions of Cambodians,” he said.
Under the terms of the 2003 agreement between the UN and the Cambodian government that established the tribunal, the UN can withdraw if it decides the Cambodian government has undermined the founding tenets of the court.