Human Rights Watch said Monday that two judges behind a string of controversial decisions and statements should resign from the United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.
By Robert Carmichael, Phnom Penh
The US-based rights group said the tribunal’s investigating judges – Germany’s Siegfried Blunk and Cambodia’s You Bunleng – had “egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties”.
Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said what was happening would be “shocking for an ordinary crime, but it’s unbelievable when it involves some of the 20th century’s worst atrocities.”
“The Cambodian people have no hope of seeing justice for mass murder as long as these judges are involved,” Adams said.
HRW also called on the UN to investigate “numerous credible allegations of judicial misconduct” against the two judges or risk destroying the credibility of the tribunal.
It is the latest criticism to hit the hybrid court, which over the years has laboured under a cloud of corruption, political interference and mismanagement.
Judges Blunk and You head the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges. Under the tribunal’s civil law system their function is to examine the evidence against suspects and recommend whether or not to proceed.
Although the Cambodian government supported the tribunal’s first two cases, it has said many times it would not permit the final two cases – known as Cases Three and Four – to proceed, claiming to do so would risk civil war.
The debacle now enfolding the court concerns those final two cases, whose five suspects are each alleged to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.
The criticisms stem in part from the investigating judges’ April decision to close Case Three against the former Khmer Rouge navy head, Meas Muth, and air force commander Sou Met. That sparked a storm of criticism after it emerged they had not interviewed the suspects or most of the witnesses, and had failed to visit the crime sites.
It is also widely known that the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges dumped thousands of pages of unrelated documents into the case file to try and make it appear that they had done sufficient work.
In May the international prosecutor Andrew Cayley said the judges’ investigation in Case Three was deficient, and appealed the closure saying much more work was needed. Cayley’s appeal is pending.
It is a far cry from the aims of the tribunal, which is charged with prosecuting two categories of person: the surviving Khmer Rouge leaders, who constitute Case Two, and anyone else considered “most responsible” for crimes committed during the movement’s 1975-79 rule.
The regime’s security chief, Comrade Duch, who was jailed for 30 years in Case One for his part in the deaths of 12,000 people, was prosecuted as one of those most responsible.
Although the two suspects in Case Three and the three suspects in Case Four were not leaders, legal experts say they fall into the “most responsible” category.
But in an August statement Judges Blunk and You caused further uproar when they said of their ongoing investigation into Case Four: “There are serious doubts whether the (three) suspects are ‘most responsible’.”
A few weeks later the two judges sparked more outrage when it emerged they had rejected a Cambodian civil party applicant in Case Three on the grounds that the psychological harm stemming from her husband’s forced labour and subsequent execution was “highly unlikely to be true”.
Although they have refused to state how many of the more than 300 civil party applicants for Case Three they have ruled on, this was at least their third rejection, and all the more remarkable since the tribunal had previously admitted all three applicants as civil parties in either or both of its first two cases.
Their reasons for rejection appalled seasoned observers. One legal adviser described it as an embarrassment for the tribunal and the worst reasoned order she had ever read.
HRW says the signs now indicate the judges are doing with Case Four what they did in Case Three – shelving it without serious investigation. It says tribunal sources have told HRW that Judges Blunk and You have caved to political pressure.
Adams said the UN’s Office of Legal Affairs in New York – which nominated Blunk – must investigate, echoing a similar demand made on September 21 by tribunal monitor the Open Society Justice Initiative.
But the UN has shown no inclination to do so. Asked whether the UN would now investigate, Martin Nesirky, a spokesman for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, simply repeated a June statement saying the UN expected the judicial process to be free of any external influence.
Judges Blunk and You have refused to comment.
In his reply court spokesman Lars Olsen cited the tribunal’s built-in checks and balances, adding that any decision the judges made could be appealed to the court’s pre-trial chamber. The judges, Olsen stated, would continue to do their work independently.