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UN concerned over Cambodia blocking international judge from genocide tribunal

The UN expressed concern [press release] on Friday over Cambodia's decision to not appoint the reserve judge to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) [official website; JURIST news archive] over "ethical concerns." The UN stated that the ethical concerns were unfounded. The previous judge, Judge Siegfried Blunk, resigned [JURIST report] in October over statements made by the Cambodian foreign minister allegedly attempting to interfere with the tribunal's proceedings. ECCC judges, including Blunk, have been criticized for allegedly failing to conduct impartial investigations. Cambodia has argued that the trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders is a Cambodian issue and should not be a matter of international concern. The refusal to permit the reserve judge to take the vacant position on the tribunal has blocked two pending cases [AFP report].

In October, defense lawyers for accused Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea filed a lawsuit [JURIST report] against Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen [BBC profile] for interfering with the UN-backed war crimes tribunal. Nuon's lawyers accused the prime minister of criminally conspiring to block some of the defense witnesses from testifying [Reuters report] and consequently interfering with his right to a fair trial. In September, the ECCC ordered the trials be split into a series of smaller trials [JURIST report]. The ECCC said that the separation of trials will allow the tribunal to deliberate more quickly [press release] in the case against the elderly defendants. The first trial will focus on the beginning two phases of population movement and allegations of crimes against humanity, including murder, persecution not on religious grounds and forced disappearances associated with the first phases of population movement. Subsequent trials will focus on the third phase of population movement, genocide, persecution based on religious grounds and violation of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [ICRC backgrounder].

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