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Justice Watchdog Urges Further Kickback Investigation

A tribunal watchdog has called on the UN to further investigate charges that Cambodian judges pay kickbacks to high-ranking officials in order to sit on the courts, while outlining a bevy of weaknesses that remain in the process to try former top Khmer Rouge leaders.

The Open Society Justice Initiative praised agreement on internal rules for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, but said the UNDP must ensure a recent audit of the courts' human resource management unit is acted upon.

OSJI's Cambodia Justice Initiative Director Long Panhavuth said the UNDP audit should be made public to quell doubts over kickbacks.

"If the report is not made public, then the people are still in doubt about the problem which has not been solved," he said. "So we believe that there should be an investigation to ensure the whole tribunal is just."

The courts have so far declined to release the audit.

In a June report, OSJI cited the courts failure to address "persistent allegations" of kickbacks as a threat to the credibility of the tribunal. It further cited "flaws in the Cambodian judicial selection process" and "delays and fractures between the national and international judges" as impediments to justice.

"Challenges" to the tribunal, OSJI said, included "maintaining the reality and appearance of independence and impartiality of the judiciary and other organs of the court; ensuring compliance with due process and fair trial standards; fostering transparency and public engagement; and improving overall capacity and effectiveness of operations."

"As the ECCC moves into its investigations phase, immediate steps must be taken on an array of issues," OSJI said, "including: getting the courtrooms ready for pre-trial hearings, which are expected to start in a few months; providing protection and support to potential witnesses; making the court's operations more accessible to the Cambodian public through enhanced outreach; and instituting more transparent reporting on the court's financial and administrative operations."

"Without prompt attention to these and other needs," OSJI said, "further delays will likely plague the court and erode public confidence."

OSJI has been involved in a row with the courts since it pointed out allegations of kickbacks in February. Government and court officials strongly denied the allegations, and a spokesman said the government had considered severing ties with the group or ejecting some of its members.

The OSJI report and statement Wednesday received little credence at the courts, ECCC spokesman Reach Sambath said Friday.

"Everyday, we do not work based on this report," he said. "We understand what we have to do. Some of the points [in the report] are unreasonable and are not being used. So, our goal is to have a good tribunal, and it will take a long time."