Sniping Plagues Office of Co-Investigating Judges, Again

The rocky relationship between the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Cambodian investigating judge and his new international counterpart continued to publicly unravel yesterday, with both men criticizing each other in dueling press statements issued barely an hour apart. The renewed acrimony came as all five Cambodian investigators in the Office of Co-Investigating Judges (OCIJ) were let go at the end of last year for reasons that remain unclear, even as one key case is still open for investigation.

“Five national investigators had our contract ended on December 31, 2011,” said Lim Sokuntha, one of those let go. “We learned from our superiors at the Office of Co-Investigating Judges that our contracts were not renewed, but we don’t know why. When we asked, they didn’t elaborate.”

All five had worked for the court since October 2006, he said.

Another former investigator, Chay Chandaravan, confirmed that contracts for all five Cambodians on the team, including the national team leader, were not renewed. “I don’t know the reason about this,” he said.

Neth Pheaktra, a spokesman for the Cambodian side of the court, declined to comment.

OCIJ has already been decimated by the departure of nearly its entire international legal team, who quit last year to protest the office’s handling of two politically fraught cases known as 003 and 004.

Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top government officials have long been bitterly opposed to the cases, in which two members of the Khmer Rouge military and three mid-level cadres are accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The previous international investigating judge, Siegfried Blunk, resigned abruptly in mid-October amid mounting criticism over his seeming disinclination to investigate the two cases. He and Cambodian Investigating Judge You Bunleng agreed in April to close their investigation into Case 003 without interviewing the suspects or visiting key crime scenes, to the consternation of their staff.

Case 004 is still technically open, but it is difficult to imagine how it could be pursued in the absence of a single Cambodian investigator.

“This is just one more fact in a long series of developments whereby decision-making on the Cambodian side of the [tribunal] conveniently aligns itself with the government’s public opposition to ever seeing cases 003 and 004 properly investigated, let alone any of the suspects ever prosecuted,” said Clair Duffy, a trial monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative.

Meanwhile, collegiality within OCIJ fell to what may be a new low yesterday after Reserve Investigating Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet announced that he had made “important decisions” regarding cases 003 and 004 last month, but that his Cambodian counterpart, Judge You Bunleng, was preventing him from releasing public information on his actions.

Almost immediately afterwards, Judge Bunleng lashed out at Judge Kasper-Ansermet, accusing him of issuing his statement on a national holiday in an effort to conceal it from Cambodian court staff.

“The National Co-Investigating Judge would like to express his deep disappointment with the working manners of the Reserve International Co-Investigating Judge, who lacks mutual understanding and consideration of the legal principles and common practices applied so far within the Office of the Co-Investigating Judge[s], but who acts as an Outreach Officer,” Judge Bunleng wrote.

He added that he did not believe Judge Kasper-Ansermet had “legal accreditation” to act on cases 003 and 004.

Yesterday’s back-and-forth mirrored another very public disagreement last month, when Judge Kasper-Ansermet told the press he had started working at the tribunal and Judge Bunleng immediately retorted that he would not recognize any work done by the Swiss judge until he is formally appointed by the Supreme Council of the Magistracy.

Judge Kasper-Ansermet has been in an unprecedented state of limbo for the past three months, as the government has refused to convene the Supreme Council to formally endorse his appointment despite a request to do so from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Until that happens, he is still technically a “reserve” judge, and it is unclear what recourse he has in his disagreement with Judge Bunleng. Under normal circumstances, judges and prosecutors who clash with their counterparts can ask the Pre-Trial Chamber to resolve the matter.

“Since there is seemingly a disagreement between the national co-investigating judge and the international reserve co-investigating judge about what a reserve judge can do, I am not in a position to comment,” said Lars Olsen, the tribunal’s spokesman on legal affairs, when asked whether a reserve judge could formally register a disagreement.

As for Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s official appointment, it does not appear to be forthcoming. Ouk Savuth, prosecutor-general for the Court of Appeal and a member of the Supreme Council, said late last week that the body had no plans to meet and endorse the judge.

“I’m not familiar with any future convention about this… Up to the present, I haven’t been contacted by the administration of the council for the meeting,” he said.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he had “no idea” why the Supreme Council had not yet convened, while Amnesty International called on the body to meet as soon as possible and appoint Judge Kasper-Ansermet.

“Judge Kasper-Ansermet must be given the full support necessary by the Cambodian government and the tribunal’s donors to undertake investigations into cases 003 and 004, preferably in collaboration with his Cambodian counterpart Judge You Bunleng,” said Rupert Abbott, an Amnesty researcher on Cambodia.

Judge Kasper-Ansermet did not respond to a request for comment, but noted through a court spokesman that he had provided Judge Bunleng with an advance copy of his press release on Friday.

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