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Groups Call on Tribunal To Find Salaries for Interpreters

People attend a hearing for former Khmer Rouge leaders at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, file photo.
PHNOM PENH - An international association of interpreters is calling for the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal to find a way to pay the salaries of staff at the court so that an atrocity crimes trial for three former regime leaders can continue.

The Switzerland-based International Association of Conference Interpreters called for “all parties concerned to attain a swift and satisfactory resolution” in what it called a “dire situation.”

A handful of lawyers at the court have also called for the salaries to be paid, after interpreters for the court walked out in boycott earlier this month.

“As lawyers, international lead co-lawyers, and some civil party lawyers, we want to express our strong support to the interpreters and beyond them to all the national staff,” eight lawyers said in a statement.

They called the interpretation and translation jobs at the court “crucial” to its function and urged the Cambodian government to remain involved in salary negotiations.

The court is struggling with funding and has not been able to pay Cambodian staff members since December.

The interpreter section of the court walked out at the beginning of a hearing on March 4, saying they would not return to work until their salaries for the previous three months were paid. Tribunal administration has been negotiating with the interpreters since then, while looking for more funding. Hearings have been halted in the meantime.

“We are waiting for the last chance,” tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said. “It’s a budget pledged by the EU last year.”

Last week, the staff of the Interpreters and Translators Unit of the court said they would continue to work if they are paid their December salaries, but will return to a boycott if they do not have a renewed contract for 2013 by the end of March. And few have returned to do some work, court sources said.

Meanwhile, seven transcribers have joined in the boycott, according to sources close to the court, who spoke on condition of anonymity. One of the transcribers wrote on the blog Khmerliterature on Monday that national staff have not been paid because “donors would like the Royal government to fulfill its obligation regarding national staff salaries.”

That comment prompted Kong Sophy, head of the tribunal’s management team, to warn that the transcriber could lose his or her position, However, Neth Pheaktra said the transcriber would not be fired, only reminded of his or her “duty as staff of the court.”