Citing “broad progress” in efforts to prevent corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the Australian government Thursday confirmed it has unfrozen the funds it has donated to the Cambodian side of the court.
After donating $456,000 to the court’s Cambodian side a year ago, Australia jointly decided with the UN, France and the European Commission in July to freeze funding when Cambodian staff reported kickback allegations to UN personnel.
In a response to questions submitted this week, the Australian government said it was unfreezing the funds despite last week’s failure of a third round of negotiations between the UN and the Cambodian government to establish what the UN calls a “credible” anticorruption program.
Cabinet Minister Sok An on April 8 confronted UN negotiators with word of the new Australian decision on the final day of last week’s unsuccessful talks. The government also announced last week that several donor countries had expressed support for Cambodian proposals that would prevent Cambodian staff from again lodging complaints with UN personnel, a position the UN rejects.
UN officials have said privately that they feared donors might not support their position in the talks.
In Thursday’s statement, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that it believes the UN and the Cambodian government will ultimately reach an agreement.
“While an agreement between the UN and the Cambodian Government has not yet been reached, the Cambodian Government is keenly aware of the need to ensure that donor concerns are addressed,” a department spokesman wrote in an e-mail.
“In releasing the funds, the Australian Government has reiterated to the Cambodian Government the strong expectation that it will reach agreement with the United Nations on a credible anticorruption mechanism,” he said, adding that Australia would continue to monitor the funds’ dispersal via the UN.
Since kickback allegations were first publicized in 2007, the court’s Cambodian side has installed complaint boxes at the court, appointed two Cambodian ethics monitors, and the Council of Ministers has instituted procedures for the review of complaints.
Despite these changes, the UN persisted in seeking administrative changes to the Cambodian side of the court. Other donors have also maintained their funding freeze.
UN Development Program officials could not be reached Thursday. Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said the court had yet to be officially informed of the Australian decision, and that it remained unclear if the remaining Australian funds would arrive in time or be sufficient to meet the April payroll for Cambodian staff.
“If this is true, we very much appreciate their assistance,” he said.
A $200,000 Japanese donation made directly to Cambodian authorities last month allowed the court to pay Cambodian salaries for March. In the absence of other contributions, the UNDP-administered funds are near exhaustion.
Prime Minister Hun Sen and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had been due to discuss the tribunal on on the margins of the Asean summit in Thailand but the summit was canceled due to political unrest.
After the UN Office of Legal Affairs announced last week that it was ceasing negotiations, UN and Cambodian officials said this week that it was unclear how or if both sides would continue communicating in order to reach an agreement.
UN Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksøe-Jensen, who led the UN delegation to Cambodia last week, “should put more trust in the Cambodian side to make sure everything is going right,” said Council of Ministers Secretary of State Phay Siphan. “He might have more understanding of the Cambodian way and the participation of the other internationals.”
Brad Adams, head of the Asia division at Human Rights Watch, said Wednesday that a key aid donor to Cambodia had “undermined” the UN.
“It is disappointing, even shocking, that Australia, which features rule of law in its aid to Cambodia, would be undermining the UN’s position at such a critical moment,” he wrote in an e-mail.