Details of purported communications between UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Prime Minister Hun Sen regarding the appointment of a new international judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal were released and then abruptly retracted by the Press and Quick Reaction Unit yesterday afternoon.
The Council of Ministers’ spokesbody, the Press and Quick Reaction Unit, issued a press statement yesterday, including details of letters between the premier and Ban.
However, it was quickly replaced by a three-paragraph statement on the government’s position toward the endorsement of Swiss judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, who will oversee controversial cases 003 and 004 with his Cambodian counterpart.
“We wish not to reveal details about the communications,” Ek Tha of the PQRU told the Post after the sudden replacement of the lengthy and detailed press statement with one of just three paragraphs.
“The first press release was done by another staffer – that information is not for the media, we wish to retract the first statement.”
The “retracted” press statement detailed a November 3 response letter from Hun Sen to Ban’s October 18 request to him that the Supreme Council of Magistracy appoint Kasper-Ansermet as the new co-investigating judge.
“Response from the Prime Minister to the Secretary-General suggesting prudent consideration in the light of ‘certain activities by Mr Laurent Kasper-Ansermet that have been brought to public attention’,” the press statement reads.
However, this and the details of 11 other exchanges between the UN and the Royal Government of Cambodia regarding the endorsement of Kasper-Ansermet were replaced by the PQRU with a three-paragraph press statement only 50 minutes later.
Ek Tha would not comment on whether Hun Sen had taken issue with Ban’s nomination of Kasper-Ansermet to assume the role of resigned German judge Siegfried Blunk.
“In general, there have been communications and written letters [about the appointment],” Ek Tha said, without providing further detail. “The Prime Minister talks at the national level and represents the national interest of Cambodia on the international stage.”
Deputy Prime Minister Sok An chairs the taskforce representing the Royal Government’s interests on the Khmer Rouge, and it would be a significant issue for Hun Sen himself to be involved in discussions, Ek Tha said.
A sitdown between Hun Sen and Ban in 2010 made headlines after the premier reportedly informed Ban that “there would be no cases 003 and 004” at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.
Blunk, who was investigating cases 003 and 004, unexpectedly resigned from his post as international co-investigating judge more than three months ago, citing perceptions of government interference in the tribunal’s work as his motivation.
“We have never interfered with the work of the court,” Ek Tha said.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan denied there had been any correspondence at all between Hun Sen and Ban.
“The Council of Ministers has drafted some reports, a profile of [Kasper-Ansermet] to give to the Supreme Council of Magistracy for information in making their decision whether to approve him,” Phay Siphan told the Post yesterday.
Yesterday’s government press statement also said that the Supreme Council of Magistracy was now “independently carrying its normal procedures and legal considerations before a decision would be made”.
Clair Duffy, of the Open Society Justice Initiative, told the Post yesterday: “What concerns me the most about the press statement is the use of the word ‘decision’.
“Under the agreement [between the government and the UN establishing the tribunal], the Supreme Council of Magistracy approving a nominated judge is more of a technical procedure, not a ‘decision’,” Duffy said.
“There was no decision, no deliberation when Blunk was appointed,” Duffy said. “Blunk stepped in as soon as [his predecessor] stepped down.”
Information “retracted” by the PQRU yesterday indicated that Sok An had not forwarded the request for Kasper-Ansermet’s endorsement to the Supreme Council of Magistracy until after December 20, despite Blunk having resigned on October 10 and the UN officially nominating Kasper-Ansermet has his replacement the same day.
Under the rules governing the tribunal, Kasper-Ansermet “must” assume the position of international co-investigating judge. The rules do not assign decision-making power to the Supreme Council of Magistracy on this endorsement.
On Tuesday, the OSJI called for the UN and donor countries to “publicly insist” that Kasper-Ansermet be endorsed by the Supreme Council of Magistracy immediately.
The tribunal’s investigations into cases 003 and 004, which are opposed by Hun Sen and other high-ranking government officials, are effectively paralysed until an international investigating judge is appointed.
Tribunal legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen referred questions about correspondence to Ban’s office, which could not be reached for comment yesterday.