So, Things are getting a bit intense over at the Khmer Rouge Tribunal (Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia). Newish Co-Investigating Judge Siegfried Blunk, whose go-it-alone style and brusque treatment of pre-existing staff at the courts has not made him a lot of friends there, talked in his typical style to the Phnom Penh Post yesterday. He had this to say about Professor Steve Heder’s departure from the staff of the Extraordinary Chambers:
After the contract of this consultant was not renewed by our Office for certain reasons, he obviously had an axe to grind, and in a toxic letter tried to portray the termination of his contract as his “resignation” levelling all sorts of allegations at our Office. He would be well advised to bear in mind his post-contractual obligations.
This is a very serious accusation against Professor Steve Heder. Judge Blunk essentially accuses Heder of attempting to sabotage the progress of the tribunal for reasons limited to personal satisfaction of employment. Not cool, if true. But Heder deserves a great deal of confidence here. Heder is the author, along with Brian Tittemore, of “Seven Candidates for Prosecution: Accountability for the Crimes of the Khmer Rouge.” Published in 2001, this paper must be considered the most influential and significant published contribution to the prosecution of Khmer Rouge leaders prior to the convening of the ECCC.
The departure appears to have something to do with the way in which the important term “those most responsible” for the crimes of the Khmer Rouge. This term is important because “those most responsible” are the ones who will be charged. So the way in which the term is defined for the purposes of the court will determine how many people will eventually be tried in the courts. Heder discusses this obliquely in a short article here, and in a longer article titled A Review of the Negotiations Leading to the Establishment of the Personal Jurisdiction of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, available here.
Heder’s contributions are significant, in other words. That’s not just my opinion, but obviously shared not only by historians of the Khmer Rouge, but also by other ECCC observers, like David Scheffer, here.
Whatever the actual situation behind Heder’s departure from the Chambers, his response to Blunk’s public shot across the bow probably didn’t lower the temperature. After rehearsing his account of the events behind his departure, he responds directly to Blunk’s threat:
As for my post-contractual obligations, I continue to reserve the right of reply to any inaccurate or misleading information published about my work for the ECCC, such as this statement by Judge Blunk, who would be well advised to get his facts straight.
The whole letter is here, and worth a read.