Interational co-investigating judge Mark Harmon has tendered his resignation to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, a move that comes on the heels of a protracted struggle with Cambodian authorities over arrest warrants for suspects in government-opposed cases.
In a brief statement yesterday, Harmon said it was “with considerable regret that I have tendered my resignation, for strictly personal reasons”, and that the resignation would take effect upon the arrival of his successor.
Judge Marcel Lemonde resigned in 2010 after disagreements with his national counterpart You Bunleng. Months earlier, Bunleng had refused to sign off on investigations into government-opposed Cases 003 and 004. ECCC
Judge Siegfried Blunk resigned in 2011 citing government pressure regarding Cases 003 and 004, although observers at the time accused him of attempting to quietly close the book on the controversial cases. HENG CHIVOAN
Laurent Kasper-Ansermet left under a cloud of controversy after the Supreme Council of Magistracy refused to accept his appointment. In a parting note, he cited ‘egregious dysfunctions’ in Case 003 and 004 investigations. ECCC
Judge Mark Harmon announced his resignation yesterday citing ‘personal reasons’, after a months-long tug of war with police officials over unexecuted arrest warrants for Case 003 and 004 suspects Meas Muth and Im Chaem. ECCC
“It was an honor [sic] to have been selected to serve as the International Co-Investigating Judge in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia and to have had the privilege, along with my international and Cambodian colleagues, to pursue justice on behalf of the many victims who suffered at the hands of the Khmer Rouge,” he added.
However, Harmon’s tenure was marked by repeated instances in which he and his national counterpart, judge You Bunleng, differed on the direction the court should take with regard to cases 003 and 004. Bunleng yesterday declined to comment.
The Cambodian government has maintained that the court will not expand its scope beyond its first two cases against S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, and the Khmer Rouge’s senior-most surviving members, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan. Prime Minister Hun Sen has gone so far as to say that to try further cases could result in civil war.
Harmon, however, persisted in investigating cases 003 and 004, at times submitting orders without the signature of Bunleng. Most recently, Harmon unilaterally charged Case 003 suspect Meas Muth with crimes against humanity, and issued two separate warrants for his arrest – one in December of 2014, and another early last month.
Even earlier, in August of 2014, Harmon had issued an arrest warrant for Case 004 suspect Im Chaem, whom he also later charged in absentia, along with fellow Case 004 suspect Ao An.
Muth, through his son, declined to comment yesterday. Chaem could not be reached.
Judicial police have so far failed to act on any of Harmon’s warrants, and have given no indication of when or if they intend to do so. Mao Chandara, the official responsible for executing the warrants, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But despite the imbroglio over the warrants, court legal communications officer Lars Olsen insisted yesterday that Harmon’s decision to leave the court was “completely unrelated to any developments in the cases”.
“It has, in fact, been two months since he tendered his resignation,” he added.
According to Olsen, any orders issued by Harmon will remain valid unless overturned by the court.
Mark Harmon is the fourth international co-investigating judge to leave the court, with every one of his predecessors resigning amid controversy pertaining to cases 003 and 004 (see chart above).
Despite that dispiriting track record, Harmon was viewed with a measure of optimism at the time of his appointment. However, Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said yesterday that the former optimism now appears unfounded, and that his departure would affect “individual spirits and the support of the public”.
“Mark Harmon was the hope that [the court] could fix all of the issues, but the failure of the leadership of the court is reflected in the resignation of judge Harmon,” he said.
Chhang suggested the UN conduct a meaningful investigation into the court’s numerous reported irregularities, which over the years have included salary kickback scandals, allegations of mismanagement and the perennial accusations of government meddling in cases 003 and 004.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on allegations of government interference in the tribunal yesterday, directing questions to Press and Quick Reaction Unit official Keo Remy, who could not be reached.
In spite of the alleged interference, however, to cut and run would equate to the UN shirking its duty, Chhang added.
“I think that the UN has the obligation not only to find justice for the people of Cambodia, but also in terms of international law. To walk away, that’s just undermining its own role and responsibility.”
Additional Reporting by May Titthara