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Despite progress, Cambodian genocide tribunal needs more money to forge ahead

Despite progress, Cambodian genocide tribunal needs more money to forge ahead

With five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge finally in custody awaiting trial _ three decades after their murderous regime tumbled from power _ Cambodia's U.N.-backed genocide tribunal can credibly say it is on the road to justice.
But its ability to move ahead hinges on the generosity of foreign aid donors who, responding to reports of alleged corruption and mismanagement by tribunal officials, are demanding greater accountability before agreeing to tribunal requests for additional funding.
The process took a big step forward last month when Kaing Guek Eav, the head of a notorious torture center, became the first major Khmer Rouge figure to appear as a defendant in a public courtroom, making an unsuccessful appeal for release on bail.
He and four other suspects _ Nuon Chea, Ieng Sary, Ieng Thirith and Khieu Samphan _ are being held in the tribunal's custom-built jail, awaiting trial on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
But the tribunal says more work needs to be done to get to full-fledged trials to establish responsibility for the deaths of some 1.7 million Cambodians under the communist Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s.
The tribunal is appealing for more money on top of its budgeted US$56.3 million (euro38 million), saying a heavy workload means that its operation, originally supposed to end in 2009, has to be extended through 2010.
Peter Foster, a U.N.-appointed spokesman for the tribunal, said the present funds may run out by the middle of next year due to costs of services not originally planned for.
"We're not talking about buying fleets of Mercedes and helicopters; we're talking about essential elements of an international court," he said.
The tribunal has not specified how much extra money it needs. But Helen Jarvis, an Australian appointed by the Cambodian government as the tribunal's public affairs chief, gave an example of some of the increased workload, saying the number of translators and interpreters has to be increased to 40 from the current 14, and victim support and court transcription service units need to be created.
Donors raised concerns about how the funds have been spent so far after two U.N. reports this year painted a troubling picture of the tribunal's administration.
One of them, sidestepping allegations of corruption, slammed the Cambodian side for serious mismanagement.
The other found problems in the system under which duties and responsibilities are shared between Cambodian and foreign personnel, operating under Cambodian law.
More funding could be forthcoming if the tribunal can demonstrate its ability to function "efficiently and devoid of corruption," David Scheffer, a former U.S. war crimes ambassador and a professor at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago, said in an e-mail.
"The worst case scenario is that the international staff and administration would have to pull out and the trials would proceed in a strictly Cambodian-staffed court. But it would be folly to operate today as if the sky were to fall tomorrow," he said.
Joseph Mussomeli, the U.S. ambassador to Cambodia, said the United States, which did not contribute to the original budget, is considering whether to help sustain the tribunal. Washington harbors widely shared doubts about the competence and impartiality of Cambodia's courts.
"Even hypothetically, if we were to decide that the judicial process meets international standards now, it would simply be irresponsible to suggest using American taxpayer money until we're sure that the administrative process is also fixed," he said.
The corruption issue arose early this year when a New York-based legal group, Open Society Justice Initiative, alleged that Cambodian personnel had to pay kickbacks to government officials to obtain tribunal jobs.
In a country where corruption is a way of life and most civil servants earn only about US$25 (euro17) a month, the tribunal jobs are highly lucrative. Even at half of the gross salaries earned by their U.N.-appointed counterparts, Cambodian staffers with professional duties get from US$2,300 (euro1,550) to US$5,280 (euro3,550) a month _ paid out of the donors' contributions.
Jarvis rejected the corruption allegations as "more of a rumor." And a June audit by the U.N. Development Program, which oversees the budget for the tribunal's Cambodian side, did not produce evidence of kickbacks, though it said many Cambodian staffers had been hired without meeting even minimum job qualifications.
Another U.N. report, also from June, charged that the dual administrative structure of Cambodian and U.N. officials "serves only to constantly hinder, frequently confuse and certainly frustrate efforts" to render justice.
It said the relationship between officials on both sides has "somewhat evolved into a 'we versus they camp.'"
Under the 2003 agreement between Cambodia and the U.N. establishing the tribunal _ which gives primacy to nationals as jurists while relying on foreign aid to pay the bills _ the work of the Cambodian and international staffs is coordinated.
But because they maintain separate budgets, the work also is duplicated, requiring separate reporting _ double the paperwork and bureaucracy _ up and down the line.
"It's all these little things that add up to a lot of frustration for people," Foster said. "Because when you're working on something as important as this, you don't want to be spending your time worrying who's supposed to sign your phone bill .... You want to be focused on the judicial process."
The tribunal will approach donors with a "pretty complete package" of progress and actions taken to fix the problems, he said. With five suspects now behind bars awaiting trial, he said he can't imagine that donors would let the tribunal fold for lack of funds.
"It's too late at this point, no matter what happens, to stop," he said.


Updated : 2021-02-26 09:33 GMT+08:00