Tribunal Is Tainted by Political Interference, but Not From US

In an op-ed published last week, Michael Karnavas asserts that a recently passed U.S. Senate Appropria­tions Committee bill (S.3117) is tantamount to a directive ­by the U.S. government to the Extra­ordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to issue an indictment of his client Meas Muth—“Inducing Case 003 Outcome: U.S. Purse Strings Wielded as a Whip” (July 6).


I agree completely that the language of the Senate bill conditioning funding of the ECCC on assurances that the ECCC “will consider Case 003” is confusing and ambiguous.

However, I believe it is an unfair leap by Mr. Karnavas to interpret the statements as an instruction to the court to indict his client. Yes, the issue at stake here is one of political interference in Case 003—but from the Cambodian government rather than the U.S.

Since Case 003 was initiated in September 2009, it has been surrounded by substantial allegations that the Cambodian government has attempted to scuttle it for poli­tical reasons. Cambodian government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen, have made public statements that the investigation should not go forward; the Cambodian co-investigating judge has refused to cooperate or participate in the investigation of the case; and judicial police refused to execute a warrant for the arrest of Meas Muth issued by Internation­al Co-Invest­igating Judge Mark Harmon.

While the current international investigating judge is apparently diligently pursuing the case without the assistance of his Cambodian counterpart, timing for the conclusion of the investigation is uncertain. The case has been under investigation through the tenure of five international investigating judges (one technically a reserve co-investigating judge), two of whom resigned amid allegations of political interference.

The ECCC’s record of complying with international standards for independence has been diminished by the apparent government interference in Case 003 (as well as Case 004). Deeply troubling, this situation undercuts the many positive accomplishments of the court in cases 001 and 002.

Given the background of Case 003, a more reasonable interpretation of the ambiguous language of the Senate bill is that the U.S. government, as a condition of its donation to the ECCC, expects to see evidence that the court is free from political interference by the Cambodian government.

This is a legitimate position and consistent with other language in the Senate bill conditioning support for Cambodia on a “Secretary of State [determination and report]…that the Govern­ment of Cambodia has ceased violence and harassment against civil society in Cambodia, including the political opposition.”

Heather Ryan is a consultant to the Open Society Justice Initiative.

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