International human rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on the investigating tribunal of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia to resign on Tuesday, saying they had violated the legal and judicial duties set out by the UN-backed court in their investigation of two controversial cases.
HRW said the two judges, Cambodia's You Bunleng and Germany's Siegfried Blunk "have failed to conduct genuine, impartial, and effective investigations" into alleged crimes by five ex-Khmer Rouge members.
However, tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen responding on behalf of the judges, rejected the claims, saying "The co-investigating judges will continue to perform their duties independently."
In April, Case 003 was viewed as hastily concluded after the judges chose not to interview two key suspects or visit key crime sites.
Trial monitor Clair Duffy of the Open Society Justice Initiative, while agreeing wholly with HRW's allegations, stopped short of demanding the judge's full resignation. Instead, she called for a full and independent inquiry into their conduct.
Since it was established in 2003, the ECCC has been plagued with grave allegations. Kickbacks are said to have been offered to senior Cambodian officials in return for jobs at the tribunal; hiring irregularities have been so pervasive that an independent audit suggested that all Cambodian staff at the Tribunal should have their contracts nullified and there have been botched responses to allegations of corruption.
However, the HRW statement is the court's most serious blow yet as it throws into doubt the legitimacy of legal proceedings.
With a mandate to prosecute those most responsible for the deaths of 1.8 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979, the tribunal is hybrid in nature. Agreed on by the UN, Cambodian judges, prosecutors and court staff sit alongside international counterparts and have the ability to shape the legal process. However, Cambodia's courts have a poor record of legal independence, and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has repeatedly voiced his opposition to broadening the scope of the court to investigate further crimes.
John Hall, Professor of Law at Chapman University School of Law, says that Cambodian politics is not only to blame and that the UN should take more responsibility for ensuring the impartiality of the court.
Report: Human Rights Watch Calls on Tribunal Judges to Resign (Voice of America, 4 October 2011)
Report: HRW urges KRouge judges to quit over failings (AFP, 4 October 2011)
Opinion: A U.N. Fiasco in Cambodia Compromised local judges and bungling international staff have brought the Khmer Rouge Tribunal to a standstill (Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2011)