In a statement from New York, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday denied “media speculation” that that the world body had ordered the closure of an investigation into the Khmer Rouge military.
The statement also said the UN could not discuss “administrative or staffing processes” at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, an oblique reference to the resignations of UN legal officers, who are leaving in frustration at the closure of the investigation.
After years of controversy surrounding alleged government interference at the court, the statement represented the UN’s most forceful assertion that the tribunal is independent. The court has repeatedly seen internal conflicts spill out into public view as it prepares this month to begin a trial of Khmer Rouge leaders.
The statement came hours after a report was published by the Open Society Justice Initiative that called for the UN to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct and political interference in the failure to investigate cases that are staunchly opposed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
However, the OSJI report did not allege UN interference in the work of the court and, though the statement said it was rebutting similar “media speculation,” such claims have not so far been widely published.
The statement also closely echoed the views produced by the tribunal’s office of public affairs in a newsletter last month which defended the decision to release little to no information prior to the conclusion of the Case 003 investigation.
“The co-investigating judges are not under an obligation to provide reasons for their actions at this stage of the investigation in Case 003,” Tuesday’s statement said.
Yuko Maeda, a UN spokeswoman for the tribunal, said the court was not involved in producing the statement.
Anne Heindel, legal adviser to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said yesterday that the statement’s assertion was factually incorrect as, under court procedure, the judges were required to issue reasoned decisions in responding to requests for investigation.
“By saying this, they’re suggesting that public discussion is inappropriate and that public concerns are unwarranted despite the numerous facts about this investigation that have come out,” she said.
Whatever the co-investigating judges’ decision in their current investigations, the public must be reassured that they have observed proper procedure, she said, adding that “remedial steps” were now necessary to ensure this.
In a separate statement released yesterday evening, defense lawyers for Nuon Chea, the former deputy secretary of the Communist Party of Kampuchea who is to stand trial this month, said they took strong exception to the statement’s description of their client as “‘Brother Number Two’ to Pol Pot,” which they said “harms the fair trial rights of our client.”
Nuon Chea’s place in the hierarchy of the Democratic Kampuchea regime remains subject to the determination of trial judges, the lawyers said, noting that Mr Ban, the UN secretary-general and senior-most representative of the court’s international side, appeared to have taken a position on a matter yet to be adjudicated by the court.
“More subtly, the secretary-general in this press release endorses the position taken by the co-investigating judges in Case 003 by calling the accused in Case 002 ‘the four remaining’ leaders,” the statement said, taking note of pending litigation by prosecutors in support of investigations of five suspects in two other cases.
“These words indicate that the secretary-general apparently considers that these four individuals are the only ‘leaders’ of the Khmer Rouge still alive,” the defense said.