Council of Ministers Spokesperson Censured UN Special Expert

Some readers may remember that on 20 October 2011, I documented three quite different press statements – all issued on the same day, all related the Khmer Rouge Trial, from the following sources:

  • The Office of the Council of Ministers, Royal Government of Cambodia, Press and Quick Reaction Unit
  • Lars Olsen, Legal Communications Officer, Public Affairs Section, United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials
  • United Nations Under Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Ms. Patricia O’Brien

Now we have a similar, though different case. The Press and Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers distributed a press release on 24 January 2012, publishing the same text also on their website:

Joint Statement by Deputy Prime Minister His Excellency Sok An and Ambassador David Scheffer, Special Expert to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

Joint Statement
by Deputy Prime Minister His Excellency Sok An and
Ambassador David Scheffer,
Special Expert to the Secretary-General of the United Nations

This afternoon Deputy Prime Minister His Excellency Sok An met with Ambassador David Scheffer, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Expert on the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trials, to discuss the ongoing cooperation of the United Nations and the Royal Government of Cambodia in support of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

Their discussions were frank and constructive, and covered a range of important issues facing the ECCC. They agreed that the trial proceedings before the ECCC are a historic achievement in serving the interests of justice and the victims.

Although the Deputy Prime Minister and the Special Expert have differing views on the interpretation of the ECCC Agreement, they intend to continue their close discussions on the most critical issues, and both remain optimistic that the Court can achieve its mandate.

Phnom Penh
24 January 2012

But on 26 January 2012, The Cambodia Daily reported the following:

The UN’s special expert on the Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday denied the government’s claim that he had accepted Cambodia’s rejection of its nominee for the investigating judge and said he expected Laurent Kasper-Ansermet to carry out his full duties in the role.

The Supreme Council of the Magistracy turned down Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s appointment to international co-investigating judge at the tribunal on 13 January. In turn, the UN accused the government of breaching the deal they struck in 2003 for a hybrid war crimes court that would try the most senior and most responsible leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime.

But after a meeting between Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and UN special expert David Scheffer on Tuesday, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan told the media that Mr. Scheffer had agreed with the deputy prime minister that the Supreme Council’s decision to not appoint Judge Kasper-Ansermet could not be overturned.

Yesterday, Mr. Scheffer categorically denied that account.

“He mischaracterized what I certainly communicated in my meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An,” Mr. Scheffer said in a news conference. “There was never any agreement with Sok An that that decision to not appointed the UN appointee could not be overturned. There was no agreement.”

So far, as the UN understood the agreement, said Mr. Scheffler, who helped draft the original 2003 deal with the government, the reserve judge had every right to take on the full duties of investigating judge without a second approval.

“So I made that very clear, and our view is that this particular individual, Judge Kasper-Ansermet, has clear authority to fulfill his duties in this country, and we look forward to him doing so,” he said.

“This is not some situation yesterday where the United Nations agreed with the rejection of this judge by the Supreme Council. Quite the reverse; we object very strongly to that rejection, and we say that, regardless off it, he has authority under the treaty. So I want to make that very clear,” he added.

Mr. Siphan, the Council of Ministers spokesman, stood by his account of Mr. Scheffer’s meeting with Mr. Sok An, and his claim that Mr. Scheffer had agreed that there was no overturning Judge Kasper-Ansermet’s rejection.

The following report by The Cambodia Daily of 26 January 2012 adds a new element:

Mr. Siphan… censored Mr. Scheffer for taking his clarification to the comments attributed to him to the public. “I wish to see him more professional,” Mr. Siphan said. “He should call me first. He’s not in a position to react to the newspaper.”

Does this mean that a high-ranking officer of the United Nations should first get clearance before he can speak to the press? Obviously there is a discrepancy between the atmosphere in the press release by the Quick Reaction Unit of the Office of the Council of Ministers, and what Mr. Scheffer’s sees as a fundamental conflict between the present position of Cambodian authorities and the contracted agreement of 2003.

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