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Government’s spin on O’Brien visit rings hollow

By: Robert Carmichael Posted: October-28-2011 in
Robert Carmichael

The UN says it was not behind the surprise resignation of the controversial German judge Siegfried Blunk at the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

That much was made clear in an overnight email from Martin Nesirky, the spokesman for UNSG Ban Ki-moon.

Nesirky wrote: “The United Nations did not tell Judge Blunk to resign. The United Nations became aware of Judge Blunk's resignation upon receipt of his letter to the Secretary-General.”

On a separate but related topic, the government this week put out a bizarre series of comments on the back of the recent visit by Patricia O’Brien, the senior UN legal counsel, to Phnom Penh following Blunk’s stated decision to quit for reasons of political interference.

The backstory: According to Tuesday’s Cambodia Daily newspaper, at a press conference at the Council of Ministers this week government spokesman Keo Remy said that O'Brien was "ashamed" when she "learned" from Deputy PM Sok An that the Cambodian government had not in fact interfered in proceedings

In other words - the government now says that O’Brien admitted she was wrong to have thought that Phnom Penh had interfered in the tribunal’s proceedings.

Here is Keo Remy’s quote from that Cambodia Daily article:

"(Journalist Julia Wallace of the Cambodia Daily) wrote that Ms O'Brien told Sok An to stop making public statements that affect the progress of the Khmer Rouge tribunal. What (Wallace) wrote was all wrong ... (Ms O'Brien) has never told the government to stop making statements as (reported) in the Cambodia Daily."

"Mr Sok An told Ms O'Brien that the Cambodian government has never made any declaration related to the Khmer Rouge tribunal ... Ms O'Brien felt ashamed. She responded: ‘I myself wrote a lot about this issue on websites and Facebook and made other statements with media abroad.’”

Really? Not so, says Nesirky. Asked whether that reflected O’Brien’s thoughts, Nesirky replied:

“The reported statement from the spokesman of the Council of Ministers is not accurate,” he said by email. “The Legal Counsel's press statement of 20 October 2011 is an accurate record of what she said in the meeting with H.E. Sok An.”

In other words - O’Brien did tell the government to stay out of the tribunal’s efforts to render justice.

Quite what the government is up to is anyone’s guess.

On the other hand, whether the UN has the stomach to do anything other than plead for Phnom Penh to let the tribunal stay its course (and whether the UN even wants Cases 003 and 004 to go ahead) remains unclear.


Robert Carmichael is a South African journalist and has lived in Cambodia for more than four years.

Read More on Roberts's blog and follow him on Twitter - @Carmichael_Rob


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