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UN urged to stop political interference in Cambodia genocide tribunal

Rights groups urged the UN Tuesday to assure that Cambodia will not interfere in a tribunal established by the UN charged with investigating the communist Khmer Rouge regime [JURIST news archive; BBC backgrounder] of the 1970s. The pressure for UN action [AFP report] results from the resignation of Siegfried Blunk [JURIST report], one of the judges for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website], who blamed political interference for his decision. Blunk alleged statements were made by various Cambodian officials that threatened his "ability to perform his duties independently" and more significantly, "the integrity of the whole proceedings" in the cases currently at issue. Both Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy websites] have emphasized the need for the UN's involvement in the form of an investigation into the existence or extent of political interference at the court.

Blunk's departure is only the latest setback for the court, which has consistently faced allegations of political interference and has completed only one trial [JURIST report] since its inception in 2001. Last week, HRW demanded the resignation [JURIST report] of Blunk and his counterpart You Bunleng of Cambodia, who are responsible for indictments. HRW alleges that the two investigating judges have "egregiously violated their legal and judicial duties ... [by failing] to conduct proper and good-faith investigations [in violation of] their responsibilities to act impartially." The rights group said that the two judges "failed to conduct genuine, impartial, and effective investigations into ECCC cases 003 and 004," and that as a result both of those case will likely be dropped. Both cases deal with allegations of atrocities committed under the Khmer Rouge regime. In April, 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. 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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