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Controversial Tribunal Judge in Cambodia Quits, Cites Political Interference

German judge Siegfried Blunk.
German judge Siegfried Blunk.

German judge Siegfried Blunk says he has resigned from Cambodia’s U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, apparently after a series of comments about the court by government ministers. His resignation comes a week after Human Rights Watch said he and his Cambodian counterpart should quit.

In his resignation statement, Judge Blunk claims his decision to quit was sparked by comments made last week by Cambodian Foreign Minister Hor Namhong.

The Cambodia Daily newspaper quoted the foreign minister as saying it was up to the government to decide whom the court could arrest. Blunk wrote Monday that pressure by government officials calls into doubt the integrity of the proceedings.

This is not the first time that a government minister has publicly aired the government’s opinion on court decisions, and Judge Blunk has also been a controversial figure on the tribunal.

Clair Duffy is a tribunal observer with the Open Society Justice Initiative, or OSJI.

“I think this is a real surprise today. And probably evidence of the mounting pressure over many, many months. Lots of different actors asking questions very publicly about what has been going on in their office,” said Duffy.

Judge Blunk and his Cambodian counterpart You Bunleng have been accused of deliberately undermining two cases that the Cambodian government does not want.

The role of the two co-investigating judges is to examine the evidence against suspects and recommend whether or not the tribunal should proceed against them.

But in recent months their decision to close the tribunal’s third case - against two military commanders - without interviewing the suspects or most of the witnesses, and without visiting the alleged crime sites, caused outrage.

Last week Human Rights Watch said the two judges should resign on the grounds that they had “egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties.”

Duffy says Blunk’s resignation statement does not address the accusations made against his office. “But let’s not forget that Judge Blunk himself has been highly implicated in these issues as they’ve unfolded since he took office last year," she said. "The question that remains to be answered here as far as I’m concerned is what went on in that office for the last two years, particularly the last ten months? How does this go to the heart of these investigations? How do we secure some hope if any that these investigations will ever be conducted genuinely and independently even if different judges are appointed into those roles?”

In an email from U.N. headquarters in New York, spokesman Martin Nesirky says the organization is working urgently to ensure that the reserve judge - a Swiss national - is available as soon as possible.

Nesirky again repeated the U.N.’s position that the tribunal must be allowed to proceed without interference from any quarter, including interference by the Cambodian government.

The Open Society Justice Initiative has called repeatedly on the United Nations to investigate what has been going on in Blunk’s office. So far the world body has given no indication that it will do so.