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International Judge Resigns from Beleaguered Tribunal

Judge Mark Harmon in conversation with the national co-investigating judge You Bun Leng. (Courtesy photo: ECCC)
Judge Mark Harmon in conversation with the national co-investigating judge You Bun Leng. (Courtesy photo: ECCC)

International investigating judge Mark Harmon has issued a letter of resignation at the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, at a court troubled by continued delays and a failure to close at least two cases.

Though Harmon said his resignation was for personal reasons, it does come amid Cambodia’s failure to arrest suspects he named for indictment in two cases still before the court.

Court observers say Harmon had in the last three years made much progress on cases 003 and 004, both of which have been strongly opposed by senior Cambodian government officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.

“It’s unfortunate at this delicate time in the investigation that Judge Harmon wasn’t able to complete his investigations,” Heather Ryan, tribunal monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said. “It’s no doubt that Judge Harmon faced obstacles in his attempts to complete the cases, but I don’t know that was the reason for his resignation.”

Harmon’s resignation will likely mean a delay of months in the pursuit of those cases, as his replacement will have to review the cases, she said.

Eri Kaneko, a spokeswoman for the UN Secretary-General, said a “smooth transition” will take place and that a reserve judge, Michael Bohlander, has been familiarizing himself with the casework.

Via a spokesman, Harmon’s Cambodian counterpart, You Bun Leng, said he regretted the resignation but respected the decision.

However, John Ciorciari, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan who has co-authored a book on the tribunal, said Harmon has now become one in a “lengthening line of international judges, prosecutors, and investigators who have resigned” from the tribunal.

“Harmon did the right thing, to push forward on cases he believed were within the court’s jurisdiction,” Ciorciari said. “But he may have pushed the cases as far as Hun Sen will let them go.”

Peter Maguire, a legal scholar and Khmer Rouge expert, said the resignation means “a very significant setback” for the court. Harmon represented “the best that the UN has to offer,” he said. “He was one of a few people holding the Cambodian government’s feet to the fire.”