Global Policy Forum

Khmer Rouge Tribunal Judge Resigns Citing Political Interference

Siegfried Blunk, the controversial judge from the UN backed Extraordinary Cambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) has resigned from the tribunal. Blunk argued that his position had become unsustainable because Cambodian politicians were interfering with the investigations. However, Blunk and his co-investigating judge, You Bunleng, have been accused of doing the government’s bidding. Several human rights organizations have called for the judges’ resignation, on the basis that they have “failed to carry out genuine, impartial and effective investigations.”

By Robert Carmichael

Radio Netherlands Worldwide

October 11, 2011

Blunk, who was in the role 10 months, cited a recent statement by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong. According to the Cambodia Daily newspaper, Hor Namhong said last week it was the government’s job to decide whom the tribunal should arrest.

Blunk said that and other comments from politicians could be perceived as interference.


He also quoted Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, who earlier this year said foreigners who wanted to investigate the tribunal’s third and fourth cases (003 and 004) – which the government has long said it would not permit to proceed – should “pack their bags and leave.”

Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng jointly head the Office of the Co-Investigating Judges at the hybrid court. Under the tribunal’s civil law system their function is to examine the evidence against suspects and recommend whether or not to proceed.

But the two men have been accused of doing the government’s bidding with a seemingly slipshod investigation into Case 003, which they closed in April without interviewing the two suspects and most of the witnesses, and without examining the alleged crime scenes.


Their decision was widely condemned, and resulted in calls for UN headquarters to investigate what its nominated appointee to the court was doing.

Since then Blunk’s office has issued further decisions that have been slammed for lacking any legal merit, and has raised yet more concerns about its ongoing investigation into Case 004.

Each of the five suspects in Cases 003 and 004 is alleged to be responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

In August Blunk and You Bunleng caused uproar when they said of Case 004: “There are serious doubts whether the (three) suspects are ‘most responsible’.”

A few weeks later the two judges sparked more outrage when it emerged they had rejected a Cambodian civil party applicant in Case 003 on the grounds that the psychological harm stemming from her husband’s forced labour and subsequent execution was “highly unlikely to be true”.

Last week Human Rights Watch called on Blunk and You Bunleng to resign from the tribunal, saying they had “egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties”.


Blunk’s exit will be widely welcomed by victims’ groups, legal experts and observers.

UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said by email that the global body was working to ensure that Blunk’s replacement – Swiss national Laurent Kasper-Ansermet – was available “as soon as possible”.

The timing of Blunk’s departure is certainly convenient for UN headquarters, which has seemed unable or unwilling to deal with what has become a string of embarrassments with his stamp attached to them.

The tribunal has already lurched from crisis to crisis, including corruption, funding problems, mismanagement, cronyism and political interference.

Ou Virak, who heads the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), said Blunk’s resignation proves beyond doubt that the government has interfered with Case 003 and Case 004 investigations.

“The charade must end,” said Ou Virak in a statement. “The time is nigh for the UN to re-examine its seemingly compliant relationship with the (government).”

Ou Virak said if the tribunal door closed “without a full and frank investigation into Cases 003 and 004, the UN will have failed the victims of the Khmer Rouge.”

CCHR is the latest organisation to call for an investigation. One of the first was tribunal monitor the Open Society Justice Initiative.

“(The co-investigating judges) have repeatedly rendered decisions that nobody understands, that are contrary to every legal rule in the book and consistently so – people have walked out of their office left, right and centre,” says the Open Society’s Clair Duffy.


Duffy hopes the timing of Blunk’s resignation “isn’t something that’s too convenient now”.

“I still maintain that (his resignation) doesn’t resolve the underlying question and the underlying problem, which is: To what extent has the government interfered in the judicial decision-making in this court? And what does it mean for the future of cases 003 and 004, and for the institution as a whole?” she said.

The irony behind Blunk’s resignation is that Phnom Penh has long said it would not permit Cases 003 and 004 to go ahead. Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen bluntly gave that message to Blunk’s boss – the UN secretary-general Bank Ki-moon – last year.

In his resignation statement on Monday, Blunk explained that away by saying he had expected Hun Sen’s statement to Mr Ban “did not reflect general government policy”.


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