FURTHER evidence that the Cambodian government tried to limit the number of prosecutions at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, along with concerns over the independence of several appointed judges, surfaced in United States diplomatic cables made public on Tuesday.
One cable from January 2007, marked “confidential” and signed by then-Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli, reported that a limited scope for prosecutions at the court was a “make or break” issue for the Cambodian government.
Following a meeting at Deputy Prime Minister Sok An’s ranch on January 20, former US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes David Scheffer said that the “most important issue” for the government was “fear that international prosecutor Robert Petit and his staff may become too overzealous in their investigative work, expanding the number of potential indictees to an unacceptable degree”, Mussomeli noted.
The only other person at the meeting was then-court administrator Sean Visoth, who reportedly “reiterated” that the issue “must be handled correctly to put at ease the minds of the CPP Central Committee”.
Mussomeli said it was “noteworthy that Visoth referred to the CPP Central Committee” and not the government as a whole. “In a country whose judiciary does nothing with respect to any politically related case without instructions, it is little surprise that the RGC is reticent about a legal process that they may not be able to control,” Mussomeli concluded.
In a 2006 cable, Mark Storella, deputy chief of mission at the time, dispatched observations on the just-announced judges at the Khmer Rouge tribunal. Storella titled his cable “KRT Judges Named: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” and expressed concern about the independence of several judges.
Judge Ney Thol of the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber was awarded an assessment of “ugly” for presiding over the 2005 trial of Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Cheam Channy, which Storella called a “show trial” that was “legally flawed and roundly criticized by the international community”. Storella said Appeals Court Judge Thou Mony and Banteay Meanchey provincial Judge Ya Sokhan, both judges at the Trial Chamber, were “considered politically biased”.
All three judges have survived efforts by defense attorneys at the court to unseat them for allegations of political bias.
Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said yesterday that the court “has no comment on the substance of the cables posted on WikiLeaks website”.