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Germany judge resigns from Cambodia genocide tribunal

A German judge at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] resigned [press release] on Monday over statements made by the Cambodian foreign minister. Cambodian government officials have put pressure on the international court to turn the cases over to Cambodia, with the Cambodian foreign minister purportedly stating, "On the issue of the arrest of more Khmer Rouge leaders, this is a Cambodian issue. ... This issue must be decided by Cambodia." ECCC Judge Siegfried Blunk resigned from the panel of judges in an effort to maintain the "integrity of the whole proceedings," though he indicated that he would not have been influenced by such statements. Both Blunk and co-judge You Bunleng of Cambodia have been criticized for allegedly failing to conduct impartial investigations. Last week, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] demanded the resignation [JURIST report] of the two judges responsible for indictments at the Cambodian tribunal on Khmer Rouge [BBC backgrounder; JURIST news archive] war crimes. In April 2011, the judges declared that they had concluded their investigation into Case 003 [materials] and a formal closing order is expected to be issued soon. The judges are also expected to close and dismiss Case 004 [materials]. Should closing orders be issued in either case, the prosecutor can appeal to the pre-trial chamber.

In July, the UN denied reports [JURIST report] it instructed the ECCC to close further investigations into war crimes committed under the Khmer Rouge regime after the controversial closing of Case 003. Doubts about the legitimacy and independence of the ECCC have been raised since the decision to close ECCC Case 003. In May, a coalition of more than 30 rights groups and development organizations in Cambodia issued an open letter [JURIST report] urging the ECCC to embrace a greater degree of transparency. Earlier that week, ECCC judges ordered Co-Prosecutor Andrew Cayley to retract public statements requesting further investigation [JURIST report] into Case 003. Cayley said the information was released pursuant to tribunal rules "to ensure that the public is duly informed about ongoing ECCC proceedings." The judges, however, said Cayley breached the tribunal's confidentiality and ordered the retraction. The only ECCC conviction since its founding in 2006 is of Kaing Guek Eav [ECCC backgrounder; JURIST news archive], better known as "Duch," a former prison chief at the notorious Toul Sleng prison under the Khmer Rouge. In March, he appealed his 35-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity handed down by the ECCC [JURIST reports] last July. The Khmer Rouge have been blamed for the deaths of some 1.7 million people [PPU backgrounder] from starvation, disease, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979.

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