The United Nations today rejected media reports that it instructed judges at the tribunal in Cambodia dealing with mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago to dismiss its third case, stressing that the court is an independent body.
“Support for the independence of the judiciary is a fundamental principle that the United Nations upholds in Cambodia as elsewhere,” a statement issued by the spokesperson for the Secretary-General said.
“The judges and prosecutors at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) must be allowed to function free from external interference by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations, donor States, and civil society,” it added.
Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the ECCC was set up as an independent court using a mixture of Cambodian staff and judges and foreign personnel. It is designated to try those deemed most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.
Earlier this week, media reports said that at least five UN staff in the ECCC’s investigations office have quit their posts since April following disagreements over the decision to close the tribunal’s third case without allegedly properly investigating the charges. Case 003 reportedly involves two former senior members of the Khmer Rouge military suspected of the deaths of thousands of people.
“The United Nations categorically rejects media speculation that we have instructed the co-investigating judges to dismiss Case 003,” the statement said.
It added that the announcement made by the co-investigating judges in April that they have decided to conclude their investigation in Case 003 is an interim procedural step, and that issues related to that decision will be the subject of further consideration by the tribunal.
“The co-investigating judges are not under an obligation to provide reasons for their actions at this stage of the investigation in Case 003,” said the world body.
As for the staffing issues, the statement said that the UN will ensure that the international component of the ECCC, including the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges, has sufficient resources to undertake its work.
Estimates vary but as many as two million people are thought to have died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, which was then followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.
The court handed down its first verdict in July 2010, convicting Kaing Guek Eav – the man also known as Duch and who headed a notorious detention camp run by the Khmer Rouge – guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The ECCC is currently preparing to commence the trial in Case 002 on 27 June. The accused are the four remaining leaders of the Khmer Rouge: Khieu Samphan, the former head of State; Nuon Chea, ‘brother number two’ to Pol Pot; Ieng Sary, a former foreign minister; and Ieng Thirith, a former social affairs minister and wife of Ieng Sary.
“Their trial will be of true international significance, and deserves the ongoing, strong support of the international community,” said today’s statement.