Don't pave Cambodia's flawed path to justice
- From: Chim <ChimS1@xxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 15 Jan 2008 06:49:46 -0800 (PST)
Don't pave Cambodia's flawed path to justice
By John A. Hall
Tue Jan 15, 3:00 AM ET
Orange, Calif. - Five high-profile members of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge
government are finally in detention awaiting trial. It's historic
progress toward long-awaited justice for the brutal regime that caused
the deaths of 1.7 million Cambodians in the late-1970s.
The United Nations-backed tribunal set up in Cambodia to try these men
is running out of money and is seeking additional funds from donor
nations. The United States indicated last month that it may reverse
policy and begin funding the court.
There remain, however, legitimate concerns about the potential for
corruption and the lack of judicial independence in Cambodia. A shift
in US policy would be premature.
The tribunal - established to bring to trial "senior leaders" and
"those most responsible" for the country's massive death toll - has
undoubtedly made significant progress. The symbolism of having five ex-
leaders of the notorious Khmer Rouge under arrest is enormous in a
country where impunity is the norm. Clint Williamson, US ambassador
for war crimes, has noted that the tribunal "is making progress and
moving in a very positive direction."
Not all the news from Phnom Penh is so good. In recent months the
tribunal has been shaken by a series of scandals. Open Society Justice
Initiative, a legal group, raised allegations last February of chronic
mismanagement and indicated that the Cambodian staff - including the
judges - have to kick back part of their salaries in exchange for
An internal audit, made public in October only after portions of it
were leaked, uncovered a raft of problems at the tribunal. These
included: an inadequate oversight mechanism, Cambodian staff hired
without meeting the minimum job requirements, artificially high pay
scales, and hiring practices so flawed that the auditors recommended
that every Cambodian hired at the tribunal be fired.
An expert report, also leaked from the tribunal, paints a similarly
bleak picture. The split Cambodia/international tribunal structure is
"divisive and unhelpful," claimed Robin Vincent, former registrar for
the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Kevin St. Louis, chief of
administration for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former
Yugoslavia. They recommended that managerial responsibilities for the
tribunal be transferred to the UN, and that crucial areas such as
translation and witness protection be immediately assumed by the
Some positive but limited changes have taken place: There is now a
written personnel manual that formalizes future recruitment
procedures, a code of ethics, and an "anticorruption" pledge.
International managers are now allowed to participate in evaluations
of their Cambodian staff.
While these may be promising signs, they fail to address the heart of
the matter. The auditors' suggestion that the Cambodian staff be fired
and new employees hired under careful UN supervision was simply
dismissed. The artificially high pay scales remain. The flawed split-
tribunal structure is unchanged.
As for the kickback allegations, which go to the crux of the court's
credibility, there appears to be no political will at the tribunal or
the UN to launch any genuine and thorough investigation. The UN may be
reluctant to press this matter, fearing Prime Minister Hun Sen would
pull the plug on the tribunal rather than permit an independent and
thorough investigation that might implicate individuals within his
With the taint of political influence, corruption, and mismanagement
continuing to surround the tribunal, why is the US now considering
providing direct funding? The answer may be oil. Vast deposits have
been discovered off the coast of Cambodia in recent years - perhaps as
many as 2 billion barrels and a further 10 trillion cubic feet of gas.
Firms from China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait,
Australia, and France are seeking permits to explore and develop
Cambodia's energy riches. Beijing has recently provided Cambodia with
hundreds of millions of dollars of aid. Washington does not want to be
left out, and it is looking to improve diplomatic relations with
Ambassador Williamson has stated that the court must address
allegations of mismanagement and corruption before the US will
consider funding it. Washington should uphold that promise.
Meanwhile, it should also work aggressively with the UN to pressure
the tribunal and the Cambodian government to agree to the reforms the
auditors and experts deemed necessary. Only this will ensure that the
tribunal can function honestly and efficiently.
* John A. Hall is a professor at Chapman University School of Law and
director of the Center for Global Trade & Development.
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