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Uncertain verdict

Uncertain verdict


Reserve co-investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet.

Late on Friday, a day after inadvertently leaked government information showed Prime Minister Hun Sen had become involved in his appointment to the Khmer Rouge tribunal, Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet received the first phone call.

By yesterday morning, there had been several more, all telling him the same thing – the Supreme Council of Magistracy had met and refused to endorse him.

The purported meeting, which Kasper-Ansermet was told took place on Friday, remains shrouded in secrecy, and neither the United Nations nor the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit had received confirmation from the Supreme Council of Magistracy when contacted yesterday.

Without the SCM’s official endorsement, Kasper-Ansermet is unable to officially investigate the court’s controversial cases 003 and 004.

“If my rejection is confirmed, I may explain the situation to the UN, but I can’t do more,” Kasper-Ansermet said. “I am of the opinion that I replaced my predecessor validly under the law governing the tribunal, and that is contested by my national colleague.

“Everyone understands now that I intend to conduct further investigations in cases 003 and 004.

“I was expecting some difficulties [in assuming the co-investigating judge position], but not the real determination from my colleague to have such different opinions on the matter,” the Swiss national said yesterday, referring to a recent flurry of publicly combative statements by Cambodian Co-Investigating Judge You Bunleng.

The UN’s nominee, who has served as reserve judge at the tribunal since December 2010, said he has taken important decisions in respect of cases 003 and 004 and that he has a team of international investigators ready to begin work.

The failure of the SCM to swiftly appoint Kasper-Ansermet has effectively paralysed investigations into the cases, which are opposed by the Cambodian government.

“The position adopted by my national colleague leads to the situation where the [Office of the Co-Investigating Judges] would not be anymore constituted according to the law and therefore not properly functioning,” Kasper-Ansermet said.

“It has been like walking in shackles."

You Bunleng has publicly refused to work with Kasper-Ansermet until the SCM rubberstamps his appointment as co-investigating judge.

The Swiss judge said his international investigators were frustrated and had been waiting “for months” to go into the field. “The longer there is a delay, the longer the OCIJ and the Tribunal lose time and money,” he added. 

The UN and rights groups have demanded the Royal Government quit delay tactics and direct the SCM to convene and endorse the new international co-investigating judge immediately.

According to government information inadvertently published last week, Deputy Prime Minister Sok An only issued the direction to the SCM to consider Kasper-Ansermet’s appointment after December 20, despite German judge Siegfried Blunk resigning nearly three months earlier. 

The Post contacted all members of the SCM yesterday to confirm Friday’s meeting, but none answered repeated phone calls, except Minister of Justice Ang Vongvathana, who hung up on a reporter.

Sam Pracheameanith, chief of cabinet at the Ministry of Justice and Son Subert, privy councilor of King Norodom Sihamoni, who heads the SCM, were also unavailable for comment yesterday. 

The UN Secretary-General’s spokesman Martin Nesirky told the Post there had been no correspondence from the SCM or the Royal Government of Cambodia about Friday’s meeting.

“We continue to call upon the Government to fulfill its obligation under the Agreement,” Nesirky said via email. 

Under the agreement between the UN and Cambodia that established the court, there must be one international and one Cambodian co-investigating judge at all times.

“In case there is a vacancy or a need to fill the post of the international co-investigating judge, the person appointed to fill this post must be the reserve international co-investigating judge,” the UN and the government of Cambodia agreed. 

Kasper-Ansermet was appointed as reserve judge in December 2010, when his predecessor, German judge Siegfried Blunk took over from French national Marcel Lemonde, who resigned after registering a disagreement with You Bunleng over “the timing of investigations into cases 003 and 004”.

Blunk resigned in October citing perceptions of government interference as his motivation. 

“If I was the problem, why was this position not taken over a year ago when I was appointed as reserve judge?” Kasper-Ansermet said yesterday.

The judge, who is an avid user of social media website Twitter, yesterday tweeted in French “Could my recognised determination to investigate cases 003 and 004 explain the opposition of some to my official appointment?” 

Kasper-Ansermet has regularly tweeted about the tribunal but recently replaced his tweets with a symbolic “xxx xxxxx xxx xxxxx” and links to articles reporting on the strong divide between him and his Cambodian counterpart recorded in a number of recent public statements.

The tribunal’s press officer, Neth Pheaktra told the Post he “did not have any information about the decision” from the SCM yesterday evening. 

While Kasper-Ansermet stressed he has a team ready to begin investigations, almost the entire staff of Cambodian investigators did not have their contracts renewed after December 31, 2011.

“According to the work plan 2011 established between … You Bunleng and Siegfried Blunk, the investigations on cases were planned to close at the end of 2011,” Neth Pheaktra told the Post by email. 

“But as Judge Blunk resigned, the process was interrupted and work plan for 2012 is not established yet,” he said.

You Bunleng was unavailable for comment.