WASHINGTON DC - A US judge who will take the position of international investigating judge at the UN-backed Khmer Rogue tribunal is expected to arrive in Cambodia on Wednesday to take up his duties at the court, officials said Tuesday.
The judge, Mark Harmon, will be moving into an office beleaguered with allegations of political interference that has already been vacated twice by international judges who have said their jobs were impossible.
The office of investigating judges has before it two controversial cases that would require five more Khmer Rouge indictments and arrests, a move Prime Minister Hun Sen and other top government officials have publicly opposed.
Tribunal monitors say they hope Harmon’s arrival will mean the two cases will move forward, especially Case 004, which could be wrapped up before Case 003.
“This is a new opportunity for the office of the co-investigating judges,” said Long Panhavuth, a monitor for the Cambodia Justice Initiative. Harmon must now spend time to recruit staff for his office, he said.
That office saw a mass exodus of highly qualified international staff, many of whom said the office was not properly conducting investigations of potential war crimes suspects, in 2011, and the resignation of two judges who both cited political interference from the government as reasons for their departure.
Chhang Youk, head of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said he expected the American judge to move the office toward completion of the two cases, which were offered up by international prosecutors in September 2009.
“I think he has a hard mission that needs experts, staff and support,” he said. “And I think if he has all these, he will successfully fulfill his mission. And it is an important mission, to improve the value of the court.”
Past staff and international investigating judges have pointed to an unwillingness by the Cambodian side of the hybrid court to fully investigate the cases as further reasons for its ineffectiveness.
Asked about cooperating with Harmon, his Cambodian counterpart, You Bunleng, declined to comment in detail. “I’ll wait for him to arrive and for us to discuss ways of working together,” he told VOA Khmer.
Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen said Harmon is scheduled to begin his work “later this week.”