Phnom Penh: A Swiss judge has resigned from the UN-backed tribunal prosecuting Khmer Rouge war crimes, a move Amnesty International blames on the Cambodian government's interference with the court's efforts to seek justice for victims of the 1970s atrocities.
Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet said yesterday that he will step down in May because a Cambodian counterpart has opposed his investigations of new suspects.
He said the conflict has created "a dysfunctional situation" on the court, which is seeking justice for an estimated 1.7 million people who died of starvation,
exhaustion, lack of medical care or torture during the communist regime's rule.
In a statement today, Amnesty International called the latest resignation "a significant setback."
The former regime's chief jailer is in prison and three of its leaders are on trial, but Cambodia's leadership opposes extending prosecutions to more Khmer Rouge figures, some of whom have become political allies.
The country's powerful ruler, Prime Minister Hun Sen, has publicly chided and threatened the tribunal several times.
"The victims of the Khmer Rouge atrocities must be feeling utter despair," said Rupert Abbott, Amnesty International's Cambodia researcher.
"The UN must demand that the Cambodian government desists from this political interference, and make clear the consequences should it continue."
Kasper-Ansermet had replaced German judge Siegfried Blunk, who left in October, also citing government interference.
Human Rights Watch, though, had accused Blunk of failing to conduct genuine and impartial research beyond the one suspect convicted last year and the top Khmer Rouge leaders currently on trial in the second case to go before the court.
A statement issued by the tribunal said Kasper-Ansermet would resign May 4.
Kasper-Ansermet said a Cambodian colleague, You Bunleng, had constantly contested his authority.
He accused Bunleng of "active opposition" to new cases and said that during an informal meeting, Bunleng had refused to even discuss them.
Bunleng could not immediately be reached for comment. Prosecutors have compiled substantial evidence for so-called Cases 003 and 004, which include two top military commanders who also were leaders in Cambodia's post-Khmer
Rouge military, according to confidential court documents.
The documents allege both took part in purges that resulted in tens of thousands of deaths.
The government, however, has openly stonewalled. Hun Sen told Ban last year that new cases would "not be allowed." He has warned that new cases could spark renewed civil war, though his opposition likely stems from the many Khmer
Rouge officials, like himself, who are now in government and
who fear investigators could find new evidence of war crimes.
First Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012, 12:48