A senior-level UN representative ended three days of talks with Cambodian officials Wednesday with no agreement on how to improve the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s nettling allegations of corruption and mismanagement.
In a statement released after talks with Council Minister Sok An, UN Assistant Secretary-General Peter Taksoe-Jensen said both sides had failed to find a way that mismanagement or corruption accusations could be fed through an ethics monitor.
“I met with H.E. Sok An with the ambition to work together to put the issue of corruption behind us by concluding an agreement, which would establish a credible mechanism addressing allegations of corruption,” Taksoe-Jensen wrote Wednesday. “We did not manage to reach final agreement today.”
The Khmer Rouge tribunal, which was established in 2006 only after years of wrangling between the UN and Cambodia, has faced repeated allegations that Cambodian staff pay kickbacks to high-ranking officials in order to work at the UN-backed court.
Those allegations have been investigated by the UN, but no report has been made public. The accusations were enough to have funding frozen to the Cambodian side of the court, which is now facing empty coffers and was only able to pay its staff in March because of an emergency infusion from the Japanese government.
Other donors have proven unwilling to fund an international court that does not meet international standards, and rights groups and monitors say the corruption allegations continue to undermine the court.
The breakdown in talks comes as the hybrid court is undertaking its first trial of five jailed leaders, Kaing Kek Iev, better known as Duch, who commanded a prison system responsible for the deaths of up to 16,000 Cambodians.
Taksoe-Jensen acknowledged the progress of the court, but said it still needed ethics monitoring.
“The United Nations continues to believe that for the ethics monitoring system to be credible the staff should have the freedom to approach the Ethics Monitor of their own choice and put forward complaints without fear of retaliation,” Taksoe-Jensen wrote, at the conclusion of a third round of talks. “Such freedom of choice is an imperative element of a trustworthy ethics monitoring system. It remains critical to the United Nations that allegations of corruption and other misconduct are effectively addressed.”
The UN side of the tribunal “will further strengthen our own anti-corruption mechanism within the Court,” he wrote. The UN side would continue to file complaints with UN headquarters in New York, informing the “as appropriate” the Cambodian government, “while respecting confidentiality in a way that ensures full protection of staff of the ECCC against any possible retaliation for good faith reporting of wrongdoing.”
Sok An declined to comment to reporters after talks Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, but Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the Cambodian side remained opened to more meetings with the UN. He said Cambodia “welcomed” the remarks of Taksoe-Jensen.
Long Panhavuth, a tribunal monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, which itself has reported hearing allegations of kickbacks, appealed to the UN to continue its meetings with the government.
Tribunal officials were not available for comment late Wednesday after the talks.
Taksoe-Jensen did not indicate in his remarks whether more talks were pending, but said he had left an exchange of letters “setting out an ethics monitoring mechanism acceptable to the United Nations, which in my view should also be acceptable to the Cambodian Government.”
“The United Nations continues to be convinced that the Court will meet the principle of fair trial,” he wrote, and said the agreement on the tribunal between the government and the UN “must be able to carry out its functions with full respect to the need for judicial independence.”