PHNOM PENH (Reuters) - Cambodia refused on Monday a U.N. call to reconsider its veto of a new judge on the Khmer Rouge war crime tribunal, saying it reserved the right to reject unsuitable candidates under a 2003 agreement with the world body.
A government spokesman said the United Nations did not fully understand the terms of the agreement to prosecute former Khmer Rouge officials after the world body said Cambodia was in breach of the pact.
In a statement on Friday, the United Nations expressed “serious concern” over Cambodia’s decision not to appoint Swiss Laurent Kasper-Ansermet as a joint investigating judge and called on the government to accept him immediately.
Cambodian government spokesman Keo Remy responded on Monday by saying Cambodia’s judicial bodies had full authority to reject judges if they did not consider them suitable.
“It is the authority of the Supreme Council of Magistracy whether or not to appoint him,” Keo Remy said.
“It’s important that there is integrity between ourselves: that the U.N. respects Cambodia’s integrity and Cambodia respects the U.N.’s integrity,” he added.
The recently appointed special expert on U.N. assistance to the Khmer Rouge trials, David Scheffer, was due to hold discussions with the Cambodian government on Tuesday.
Cambodia’s decision to block Kasper-Ansermet’s appointment is the latest in a series of disputes over the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which have spent more than $150 million and handed down just one sentence since 2005.
That was a 35-year jail term commuted to 19 years for Kaing Guek Eav, alias Duch, for his role in the deaths of more than 14,000 people at a torture centre in Phnom Penh. He has appealed against the ruling.
The ECCC is currently hearing case 002, involving three top members of the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime, accused of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity for their role in a brutal revolution that prosecutors say claimed between 1.7 and 2.2 million lives from 1975 to 1979.
Judicial watchdogs and rights groups say there is overwhelming evidence to pursue two more cases but the government is firmly opposed to further indictments.
The statement said Cambodia had raised ethical concerns about Kasper-Ansermet, which the United Nations had determined were unfounded. It did not spell out the concerns.
According to Cambodian officials, the government felt Kasper-Ansermet was unsuitable because he had used his Twitter account to draw attention to a debate over whether the ECCC should try two Khmer Rouge military commanders.
The vacancy on the tribunal arose after German judge Siegfried Blunk resigned, citing political interference. Blunk had blocked moves to pursue the two cases without giving an explanation.
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, an umbrella group of 23 Cambodian non-governmental organizations, said a new judge should be appointed immediately and called for an independent probe into the conduct of national and international judges at the ECCC.
“Without such an inquiry, the legacy of this tribunal will be seriously damaged,” it said.
Editing by Martin Petty