OBSERVERS yesterday said the United Nations must confront long-standing allegations of political interference at the Khmer Rouge tribunal following the shock resignation of International Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk.
Blunk’s resignation was submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday in response to statements by government officials that the court’s third and fourth cases may not proceed, according to Blunk’s press release, issued by the court yesterday.
“Although the International Co-Investigating Judge will not let himself be influenced by such statements, his ability to withstand such pressure by government officials and to perform his duties independently could always be called in doubt, and this would also call in doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings in Cases 003 and 004,” it said.
Investigations into the cases have been dogged by allegations of political interference and senior officials have publicly spoken out against prosecutions beyond the court’s second case.
The release cited media reports from last week in which Foreign Minister Hor Namhong stated that Cambodia alone must decide whether to arrest further former Khmer Rouge leaders.
Last year, the minister informed reporters that Prime Minister Hun Sen had told Ban Ki-moon that prosecutions beyond the court’s second case would not be allowed and that the premier considered investigations in cases 003 and 004 a threat to the Kingdom’s “stability”. Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong could not be reached yesterday.
The statement also referred to comments made by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith in May, which were later retracted, warning that if international court staff wanted to “go into Case 003 or 004” they should “pack their bags and return home”.
“My statement was [made] a long time ago,” Khieu Kanharith said yesterday. “Now we leave the issue to the court to decide, in accordance with the agreement between Cambodian government and the UN.”
Court observers said the UN must repond to concerns about the tribunal’s independence. “I think the only real option for [the UN] now is to address this ... head on with the Cambodian government,” Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for Open Society Justice Initiative, said.
“Are there ever going to be genuine investigations in cases 003 and 004? The only way that can happen is with full and unequivocal Cambodian government cooperation.”
Anne Heindel, a legal advisor at the Documentation Centre of Cambodia, said the UN could no longer “sit on its hands”. “It must investigate the staggering number of allegations that there has been a concerted effort to kill these cases or the integrity of the Office of the CIJs as a whole will be compromised – including its work on Case 002,” she said.
Martin Nesirky, spokesman for the UN Office of the Secretary-General, said Ban Ki-moon had received Blunk’s resignation. Nesirky did not respond to questions about alleged political interference.
Last week, Human Rights Watch called for the resignation of Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng, claiming that they had “violated” their judicial duties. You Bunleng could not be reached for comment last night.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHEANG SOKHA