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Tribunal Breakdown Puts Onus on Donors: UN

The failure between UN and Cambodian negotiators to find a method to address corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal will mean funding decisions are left up to donors, a senior UN official told VOA Khmer.

The breakdown, after four months of talks, over whether complainants had a real choice to submit complaints, has put further funding for the cash-strapped Cambodian side of the court on uncertain ground.

The UN has argued that anonymity is essential to ensure allegations come to light. The Cambodian side has said complainants should be named, to ensure fairness and legitimacy.

But speaking to VOA Khmer in an exclusive interview, UN negotiator Peter Taksoe-Jensen, who is the Assistant Secretary-General of Legal Affairs, said the final decision over fairness was now in the hands of the donors.

“This is an issue for the donors,” he said. “I know they have been looking to the UN and the government of Cambodia to agree on a mechanism that could put the issue of corruption, or the allegations of corruption, behind us. And now we didn’t succeed in doing that, and therefore the UN has tried to address the issue unilaterally.”

Taksoe-Jensen traveled to Cambodia three times seeking to put to rest concerns over corruption that have made some donors balk at funding the Cambodian side of the court, which is now facing a budget crisis.

Prior to leaving Cambodia earlier this month, having failed to reach an agreement with his counterpart, Council Minister Sok An, Taksoe-Jensen said in a statement the UN would continue to handle complaints, through its own offices.

The UN had sought what it considered a transparent, credible method for addressing kickback allegations—which tribunal officials have repeatedly dismissed—but the Cambodian side argued that the UN sought to undermine national sovereignty.

“There was one outstanding issue that we couldn’t agree on, which was the question of what I have called ‘freedom of choice’ for all staff members of court… where they maintain freedom of choice to complain to whom they want to complain to,” Taksoe-Jensen told VOA Khmer Thursday.

Each side now understood the other’s position, he said. “So we have done a lot of good work, and there is only a little issue that separates us now,” he said. “And I hope and believe that can be dealt with. So we can agree very soon.”

Cambodian officials have said the two sides need not agree further than a February arrangement of a “parallel” system of complaints, where those on the UN side of the hybrid court complain through UN channels, and those on the national side complain through government channels.

Cambodian negotiators argue that this method will be satisfactory for donors.

However, some questions over donor funding remain. Earlier this week, the UNDP declined to release $456,000 in Australian funding for the Cambodian side of the court, saying in a statement it would not do so until questions of corruption were properly addressed.

So the Cambodian side of the court, which could only pay staff salaries in March with an emergency, bilateral infusion from Japan, remains under-funded, even as the tribunal’s first trial, of prison chief Duch, got fully underway.

In fact, neither side wants full transparency, said Peter Maguire, a US professor of law and war, and the only real pressure for full disclosure is coming from the non-governmental sector.

Following staff allegations of kickbacks last year, the UN investigated, but the results of that investigation have never been made public.

None of that bodes well for future trials, Maguire said.

“I think that basically the Cambodian government would like this trial to end after Duch’s case, and I think that everything is sort of leading in that direction,” he said. “I don’t know that they could successfully try other defendants in their lifetimes.”