Geneva judge quits Khmer Rouge case as tribunal power struggle continues

Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet, ECCC (Khmer Rouge Tribunal)

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – A former Geneva magistrate who has been the international reserve co-investigating judge for the Khmer Rouge investigation and trials handed in his resignation Monday 19 March. His move follows a lengthy dispute with the tribunal’s national judge over the international judge’s right to conduct investigations.

The Khmer Rouge Tribunal, as the ECCC (Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) is popularly known, is a national court that was set up by agreement between the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia to try senior former members of the Khmer Rouge government for crimes against humanity from 1975-79.

Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet gave his notice to the Secretary-General of the UN noting, according to an ECCC statement issued Monday, that “in view of the victims’ right to have investigations conducted in a proper manner and despite his determination to do so, Judge Laurent Kasper-Ansermet considers that the present circumstances no longer allow him to properly and freely perform his duties.”

History of taut Cambodian judges-UN appointees relations

Kasper-Ansermet was named by the UN to the case in October 2011 to replace German investigating judge Siegfried Blunk.

Blunk had resigned after accusing the Cambodian government of interfering in the investigations and Kasper-Ansermat was assigned to replace him, as the reserve judge. Blunk’s resignation came just the weeks after international publicity over charges by prosecutor Andrew Caylay that the national judges were trying to bury two of the five cases by closing it prematurely.

Human Rights groups have called for the resignation of national judges on the tribunal, although Human Rights Watch also called for Blunk’s resignation.

Phnom Penh refused to accept the Geneva judge‘s appointment, but Kasper-Ansermet stepped into the job and provoked futher the ire of the Cambodian government by continuing work on Cases 003 and 004 and by calling for five more former Pol Pot regime rulers to be investigated.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge officer who changed sides, is opposed to any new cases, citing lack of funds, which has been a problem for the court, according to Le Monde.

One former leader, known as “Duch” was sentenced late in 2011, but the other cases are still in the pre-trial investigative stage.

Judge’s right to Twitter sparked debate

Kasper-Ansermet, who is active on the Internet, was charged by the Cambodian government with acting illegally by Twittering about the Tribunal cases. The UN said it had investigated these concerns and determined they were unfounded. In February 2012 the International Bar Association in London found that “he exercised appropriate restraint and one can conclude that Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s actions should not be used as a reason to justify his rejection.”

Geneva legal and human rights roots

He began his career working for Swiss public broadcasting, TSR television, as an assistant producer. He studied law and trained in Geneva and was eventually named a judge at the Palais de Justice in the city, from 2001 to 2004, but overall he has 18 years’ experienc as a prosecutor, investigating judge and a judge in Geneva, focusing particularly on complex financial crimes and corruption.

Before his ECCC appointment he was a member of the Swiss Expert Pool for Civilian Peace (PEP) where he advised the prosecutor’s office in the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL). Prior to this he served as the head of the Paris office for the Inquiry Commission into the United Nations Oil-For-Food Programme.

Ed. note: he is the grandson of Ernest Ansermet, who led the Orchestre Suisse-Romande to international fame.