A new international investigating judge has been appointed to the United Nations-backed war crimes court in Cambodia, following the resignations of two predecessors to the position in less than a year.
Mark Harmon, a former US federal prosecutor who worked at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) for 17 years, was approved as international co-investigating judge at the Khmer Rouge tribunal by Cambodia's Supreme Council of the Magistracy (SCM) on June 20, the court said in a statement released on Monday.
"The United Nations is in the process of making the necessary arrangements for Mr. Harmon's deployment to Phnom Penh," the statement read. "His deployment will enable the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to continue the critical task of pursuing accountability for the crimes committed during the period of the Khmer Rouge regime."
The ECCC is a hybrid court staffed by both national and international personnel.
ECCC legal communications officer Lars Olsen told DW that there was no confirmed date for Harmon's arrival.
The confirmation of Harmon's appointment comes almost three months after the departure of former reserve international co-investigating judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, who left the court on May 4 after announcing his resignation in March.
The SCM had declined to formally appoint the Swiss judge, prompting the UN to declare in January that Cambodia was in breach of a 2003 agreement between the two parties that established the court.
In a parting statement Kasper-Ansermet alleged that the role of his Cambodian counterpart, Judge You Bunleng, amounted to "serious interference" in investigations into two potential cases known as 003 and 004, which involved five former Khmer Rouge cadres.
He also claimed he had "reason to believe" that several current and former ECCC staff members interfered with the Case 004 investigation.
Former international co-investigating judge Siegfried Blunk resigned in October citing "perceived" attempted interference by government officials with cases 003 and 004, amid allegations that he and Judge Bunleng had not properly investigated the two cases.
Cambodian officials have previously voiced opposition to prosecutions beyond the tribunal's current second trial involving three surviving former leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, which ruled the country between 1975 and 1979.
In a statement released on Monday, New York-based independent monitoring group the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) called on the Cambodian government and the UN to ensure that Harmon could work "without the political interference that has increasingly threatened the court's credibility."
Clair Duffy, an OSJI tribunal monitor based in Phnom Penh, told DW that she was almost certain it was the "last opportunity" for proper investigations into cases 003 and 004 at the ECCC.
"I can't see them (the UN) putting a fifth judge in that position," she said. "I think the opportunity that this new judicial appointment presents is actually for … the UN and the donors to engage with the Cambodian government at a political level, to insist that Judge Harmon is permitted to genuinely investigate cases 003 and 004."
"The real test is going to be what happens during Harmon's tenure and how the UN and donors respond to things as they unfold."
Government spokespersons either could not be reached, or declined to comment.
Meanwhile, a freeze has been imposed on recruitment of international staff at the tribunal from July 10 until sufficient funding pledges are made, Lars Olsen told DW.
Olsen said that the court's figures were being revised, but the international component was facing a substantial shortfall for the remainder of the year. He added that Harmon's hiring would not be affected by the freeze.
The ECCC, which is funded largely through voluntary contributions from donor countries, has long struggled with financial issues.
According to budget documents dated February, the court's international component is seeking 35.4 million dollars (29 million euros) for 2012 and 34.2 million dollars (28 million euros) for 2013. The national side of the court is fully funded for 2012, ECCC press officer Neth Pheaktra said.
Anne Heindel, a legal adviser for the Documentation Center of Cambodia, told DW that donor fatigue was a significant issue for the court.
"They do not want to fund case 003 and 004 investigations," she said. "I am much more worried about donor fatigue than I am about Cambodian obstruction at this point."
The ECCC has seen one case completed thus far, with 69-year-old former chief of the Khmer Rouge's S-21 prison Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, sentenced to life imprisonment on appeal in February.
Author: Mary Kozlovski
Editor: Shamil Shams