The United Nations today reiterated that the Cambodian genocide tribunal must be permitted to carry out its work without any outside hindrance, after one of the judges resigned, citing attempted interference by Government officials in the court’s proceedings.
Under an agreement signed by the UN and the Government, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (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 mass killings and other crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge three decades ago.
Judge Siegfried Blunk, the international co-investigating judge at the ECCC, submitted his resignation to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon as of 8 October, citing repeated statements by Government officials regarding what are known as cases 003 and 004.
Case 003 reportedly involves two former senior members of the Khmer Rouge military suspected of being responsible for the deaths of thousands of people, while case 004 is believed to involve three other senior members.
Following his appointment as a co-investigating judge last year, Judge Blunk proceeded with investigations in these two cases with the expectation that a previous statement reportedly made by the Cambodian Prime Minister to the Secretary-General that these cases “will not be allowed” did not reflect Government policy, according to a news release issued by the tribunal.
However, the Cambodian Minister of Information stated in May that, “if they want to go into case 003 and 004, they should just pack their bags and leave.”
While Judge Blunk will not let himself be influenced by such statements, the tribunal noted, “his ability to withstand such pressure by Government officials and to perform his duties independently, could always be called in doubt, and this would also call in doubt the integrity of the whole proceedings in cases 003 and 004.”
The Secretary-General has thanked Judge Blunk for his service and has noted the reason stated for his resignation, according to deputy spokesperson Eduardo del Buey.
“The United Nations has constantly emphasized that the ECCC must be permitted to proceed with its work without interference from any entity, including the Royal Government of Cambodia, donor States or civil society,” Mr. del Buey told reporters in New York.
He added that the UN is working urgently to ensure that the reserve co-investigating Judge, Laurent Kasper-Ansermet of Switzerland, is available as soon as possible to replace Judge Blunk, so that the work of the ECCC is not disrupted.
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 followed by a protracted period of civil war in the impoverished South-East Asian country.