In retrospect, the tenure of Swiss investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) was headed for a crash-landing as soon as it took off. He arrived here as a marked man, immediately branded “The Tweeting Judge” for his avid use of the microblogging site.
By Julia Wallace, Phnom Penh
Just a few days after starting work at the tribunal, he and his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, sparred publicly, fighting a duel with press releases. The government stalled the process of appointing him as a fully-fledged investigating judge for months and finally rejected him, ostensibly because of “ethical issues” related to his Twitter feed, but more realistically, because Kasper-Ansermet was determined to investigate two cases known as 003 and 004, which the Cambodian prime minister has insisted must not move forward.
It all came to a head last week when the Swiss judge suddenly resigned, having completed only 11 of the 100 field missions he won funding for in the court’s new budget. Two days later, he dropped a bigger bombshell, releasing a 14-page report. The document paints a picture of an utterly ruptured court in which national staff at all levels made every possible effort to obstruct Kasper-Ansermet’s attempts to investigate the two cases, largely at the behest of Bunleng. “There exist within the ECCC such serious irregularities, dysfunctions and violations of proper procedures that endanger and impede […], the proper conduct of the investigations in Case Files 003 and 004,” Kasper-Ansermet wrote.
Although he has re-opened the investigation in Case 003, read all five suspects their rights, interviewed witnesses and victims and visited crime scenes, Kasper-Ansermet has been unable to insert even a single document into the official case files. He also claimed that Cambodian clerks refused to give him the rubber stamp bearing the official seal of the Office of Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ), and that he had been refused access to court translators, transcribers and drivers.
On Monday Bunleng struck back with a scathing riposte through the court’s public affairs section that refuted many of Kasper-Ansermet’s accusations at length, but confirmed his account of toxic dysfunction in an office paralysed by a schism along Cambodian-international lines. By Bunleng’s own account, this dysfunction far predates Kasper-Ansermet’s tenure and had its genesis in UN staff’s resentment of his German predecessor, Siegfried Blunk, who reportedly agreed with the court’s Cambodians not to thoroughly investigate the two cases.
The consensus among court insiders is that Kasper-Ansermet is highly principled but naïve and lacks a full understanding of the Cambodian context. By alienating his Cambodian counterpart with his fierce statements of principle and insinuations of misconduct by Bunleng and Blunk, the Swiss judge had little chance of success. “What he is doing is like a Cambodian saying, ‘Being angry at cows, he hits the ox-cart instead,’” says Kong Sophy, the Cambodian head of the tribunal’s Court Management Section, one of those singled out by Kasper-Ansermet for obstructions.
The biggest question now is what will happen to the hot-potato cases 003 and 004. Neither the UN nor the court’s big donors have ever shown much interest. Knut Rosandhaug, the tribunal’s top UN administrator, once suggested that the cases be transferred to Cambodian courts. Kasper-Ansermet has been the cases’ strongest advocate. “Faced with the hostility of Cambodian judges, the silence of my international colleagues and a complacent administration, I find myself puzzled,” he wrote on Twitter late Tuesday night. Hours later he deleted the message.