Swiss Judge Quits KR Court Citing Opposition

Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet resigned from the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday claiming that his Cambodian counterpart at the war crimes court had stymied his attempts to investigate two cases that are openly opposed by the government. “Judge You Bunleng’s active opposition to investigations into cases 003 and 004 has led to a dysfunctional situation within the ECCC,” Judge Kasper-Ansermet wrote in a statement, adding that he had initiated contempt of court proceedings against Judge Bunleng for interfering with the administration of justice.

“In view of the victims’ right to have investigations conducted in a proper manner, and despite his determination to do so, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet considers that the present circumstances no longer allow him to properly and freely perform his duties,” he continued.

The resignation is the latest in the court’s increasingly vicious intramural conflicts, which have intensified over the past year as Cambodian and UN staff have squared off over cases 003 and 004. The government bitterly opposes both cases, in which five mid-level Khmer Rouge leaders are accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Mr. Kasper-Ansermet’s resignation as reserve international co-investigating judge is effective May 4.

It is unclear who will replace Mr. Kasper-Ansermet, as he himself is a reserve judge who moved into the position after Siegfried Blunk resigned in October, citing the government’s interference in his work.

“There is no reserve. He was the reserve,” said Lars Olsen, the tribunal’s legal affairs spokesman. Mr. Olson referred further questions to the office of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is responsible for nominating foreign judges at the court. A spokesman for Mr. Ban did not respond to a request for comment.

While Judge Blunk did not make a serious attempt to investigate cases 003 and 004, Judge Kasper-Ansermet has been more active since taking office in November. He re-opened the investigation into Case 003 and set off to make field investigations into Case 004. He informed the suspects of the charges against them and read them their rights. This week, he will be conducting interviews with civil parties in the cases.

Judge Bunleng, however, has contested all these steps, and has insisted for months that the Swiss judge has no right to work at the Khmer Rouge tribunal at all, because the Supreme Council of the Magistracy refused to approve his nomination.

Judge Kasper-Ansermet said in his resignation statement that he had recently “organized an informal meeting” with Judge Bunleng during which the Cambodian judge refused to discuss cases 003 and 004. Documents released yesterday also show that on February 27, Judge Bunleng wrote a peremptory letter to Judge Kasper-Ansermet with the subject: “Abrupt Stop of Unlawful Acts and the Use of My Name to Link to These Acts,” accusing him once again of working illegally at the court.

In a March 5 letter, Judge Kasper-Ansermet responded that the international judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber had affirmed that he was empowered to act as a co-investigating judge. “I therefore urge you to comply with the law and to refrain from sending me admonitions that are without legal basis and whose sole aim seems to be undermining the proper performance of my duties,” he wrote.

Human rights groups and court monitors yesterday renewed calls for the UN to investigate political interference at the tribunal and reconsider its involvement in the court.

Clair Duffy, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said the UN should have initiated an investigation long ago, as soon as it became apparent that interference was creating serious problems at the court.

“They’ve never addressed the root problem, which has been there for years: the government trying to control who the court prosecutes,” she said.

“The problem is that the more this issue has been allowed to unravel, the more institutional damage has been done, and we know that some of these problems in 003 and 004 have potentially bled into Case 002.”

Amnesty International urged the UN to immediately set conditions for its continued involvement at the court, including an end to political interference by the government.

“Those victims who have applied to be civil parties in cases 003 and 004 before the ECCC-involving alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and other serious crimes-must be feeling utter despair at the ‘dysfunctional situation within the ECCC’ described by Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet and the tribunal’s failure to even provide a semblance of justice in those cases,” said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty’s researcher on Cambodia.

David Scheffer, the UN’s newly appointed special expert on the tribunal, declined to comment on the resignation. But earlier this month, Mr. Scheffer said he was optimistic that Judge Kasper-Ansermet would be able to fully investigate the two cases, and that the judge had already accomplished important work in the field.

In an appearance on the BBC yesterday, Mr. Scheffer told an interviewer that the Cambodian people “would actually like the court to examine additional suspects” beyond the five currently detained.

Judge Bunleng could not be reached for comment. Phay Siphan, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers, said he would not comment on matters concerning the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)

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