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Cambodian Khmer Rouge Tribunal Monitor Calls for UN Investigation into Judges

Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia (file photo)

International observers who are monitoring the proceedings of the Cambodia’s United Nations-backed Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal are calling for the U.N. to investigate the conduct of two judges. The Open Society Justice Initiative is questioning the court’s decision to close its politically-sensitive third case, saying it threatens the court’s credibility.

The Open Society Justice Initiative - or OSJI - is a non-governmental organization funded by U.S. billionaire George Soros that has monitored the Khmer Rouge tribunal since 2003 - three years before the court formally opened its doors.

On Tuesday the OSJI released a report calling on the U.N. to investigate the conduct of the tribunal’s two investigating judges - Germany's Siegfried Blunk and Cambodia’s You Bunleng.

Monitors say the investigating judges’ decision to close Case Three, which is believed to involve two former senior Khmer Rouge military officers, could constitute judicial misconduct.

“The reason is that there are very strong grounds now for believing that there’s been political interference in the judicial decision-making process," explained Clair Duffy, who monitors the tribunal for the OSJI, "and that’s interfered with judicial independence, and also the fact that the judges have failed in their legal and ethical obligations amounts to judicial misconduct or breach of judicial duty.”

The Cambodian government has long said it opposed having Case Three to go to trial. In late April, the two judges announced they were closing the case.

The international prosecutor for the tribunal, Andrew Cayley, responded by saying the investigating judges had failed to interview the suspects during their 20-month investigation and had not visited numerous sites where crimes were alleged to have taken place.

A tribunal spokesperson said Tuesday that the two judges would not comment on the OSJI report.

The decision to close the case is far from academic. The court has not named the two men at the center of Case Three, but media reports have stated that they are thought responsible for tens of thousands of deaths.

The OSJI says court sources have said numerous times the investigations are being undermined by political meddling and a lack of donor funding.

Earlier this week the investigating judges confirmed that a number of international staff members had quit their office. The judges responded by saying they were happy to see them go.

One of those who resigned was Stephen Heder, an academic and Khmer Rouge specialist who was working in the investigating judges’ office as a consultant until he quit on May 5.

In his resignation e-mail to Judge Blunk, Heder accused the judges of closing Case Three “effectively without investigating it”. He also said Judge Blunk’s leadership had created a “toxic atmosphere of mutual mistrust” in the investigating judges’ office, which he says had become “professionally dysfunctional”.

The OSJI’s Duffy says the U.N.’s own standards of judicial conduct - known as the Bangalore Principles - appear to have been breached. She says there are a number of steps it can take.

“First of all they have a particular Special Rapporteur whose mandate is to conduct these sorts of inquiries," explained Duffy. "The Office of Internal Oversight is the office that’s supposed to investigate misconduct within the United Nations - misconduct of its own officials. So these are a couple of examples of the things that we say can and should be done at this stage.”

The OSJI says a U.N. investigation is critical to restore public trust in the tribunal’s investigations into crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.

The tribunal, made up of both Cambodian and international jurists, has already convicted a notorious Khmer Rouge jailer and is to open the trial of the top four surviving Khmer Rouge leaders later this month.