UN Must Confront Political Interference in Cambodia's Khmer Rouge Court

NEW YORK—The United Nations must respond to a crisis of confidence in the internationally-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia by explicitly confronting continuing Cambodian government efforts to limit the scope of its investigations, the Open Society Justice Initiative said today.

The Justice Initiative is urging the UN to respond to the resignation of the court’s international co-investigating judge, Siegfried Blunk, by addressing the underlying problem of political interference in the court, which uses a mix of Cambodian and international judges and staff.

“This should not be a case of business as usual,” said James A. Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative.

He added: “The UN needs to seek public guarantees from Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government of full cooperation in all four of the open cases before the court. If those guarantees are not forthcoming, the UN should reassess its commitment to the court.”

The Justice Initiative also welcomed the announcement on Monday of the resignation of Judge Blunk. It reiterated its call for the UN to open an inquiry into allegations of judicial misconduct and incompetence during his 10 months in the position.

The Justice Initiative’s Goldston said: “The credibility of this court, including its current case against the top four surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, depends on restoring confidence in the independence of its investigations, both past and future.”

Earlier this year, Judge Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng presided over the decision to end investigations into two former Khmer Rouge leaders, despite not having interviewed the two suspects, or conducting significant field investigations. The Cambodian government has repeatedly said it does not want that case, known as Case 003, brought to trial.

In announcing his resignation, Judge Blunk complained of public statements by the Cambodian government indicating its opposition to both Case 003 and Case 004, which involves an additional three former Khmer Rouge figures. He said the statements meant the independence of the investigating judges, who recommend whether the cases should go to trial, '“could always be called in doubt”.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has maintained a presence in Phnom Penh to monitor developments at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, officially known as the Extraordinary Courts in the Chambers of Cambodia, since the first public hearings in 2007.