More leaked documents highlight Khmer Rouge tribunal under fire in Cambodia
It is the latest scandal to rock the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, as it prepares to begin the trial of the four most senior surviving leaders of the regime that killed some 2 million Cambodians in the 1970s.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
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The mass resignation of UN-employed staff at an international tribunal is unprecedented, say observers, and highlights internal concerns about the court’s independence – including whether some of its judges have bowed to political pressure from the Cambodian government.
If steps are not taken to save the reputation of the UN-backed court, it could undermine not only the tribunal's credibility but faith in the international justice system itself.
It is the latest in a series of scandals to rock the UN-backed court in recent weeks as it prepares to bring to trial the four most senior surviving leaders of the regime that presided over the deaths of some 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.
The embattled Office of the Co-investigating Judges has reportedly lost four of six members of its legal team. Some resigned in protest of what they say was a purposefully flawed investigation into a politically sensitive war crimes case.
In his resignation letter, noted Khmer Rouge historian Stephen Heder characterized the working environment as a "toxic atmosphere of mutual distrust," according to the Cambodia Daily newspaper. He accused judges of ending the investigation into the case “effectively without investigating it.”
Observers say that trial, referred to as Case 002, could be compromised if the court fails to carry out thorough investigations two more cases, which involve another five suspects named in a confidential document obtained by The Christian Science Monitor.
The failure of the court to carry out proper investigations could have implications that reach even further than Case 002, according to Theary Seng, a Khmer Rouge victim who wrote “Daughter of the Killing Fields.”
“It'd be devastating to the confidence and trust of Cambodians, and a blow to international criminal justice,” she says, adding that such a failure could lead to the “embedding of an irreversible cynicism among a people and a society already mired in distrust and paranoia.”
Observers say the controversy surrounding the flawed investigation into Case 003 has seriously undermined the court’s credibility.
Responding to the resignations, the co-investigating judges, You Bunleng and Siegfried Blunk, issued a statement saying they “welcome the departure” of employees who questioned their decision to end the investigation into Case 003.
This doesn't sit well with observer groups, who have pleaded with the UN to step in.
“The UN needs to take immediate steps to inquire into this situation,” says the Open Society Justice Initiative’s Clair Duffy. She called for a probe into alleged political interference as well as “inquiries into whether the judges have breached their legal and ethical obligations.”
The UN has so far refused to take such action. On Tuesday, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon released a statement saying the court “must be allowed to function free from external interference by the Royal Government of Cambodia, the United Nations, donor States, and civil society.”