During this week’s unsuccessful negotiations on the establishment of a mechanism to address kickback allegations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, foreign donors to the court expressed support for the government’s position and encouaged visiting UN legal officers to accept it, the government claimed Thursday.
At Wednesday’s final meeting between the government and the UN, Cabinet Minister Sok An also presented the UN visitors with a copy of a letter from the Australian government which said it has in-
structed the UN Development Program to release Australian monies for the Khmer Rouge tribunal, which were frozen last year due to the kickback allegations, according to a source familiar with the discussions.
Peter Taksoe-Jensen, UN assistant secretary-general for legal affairs, announced Wednesday evening that the UN was ceasing negotiations on the establishment of an anticorruption program after failing to reach an agreement in three extended rounds of shuttle diplomacy since December.
In a statement, Mr Taksoe-Jensen said the UN maintains that staff at the UN-backed tribunal should have “the freedom to ap-
proach an ethics monitor of their own choice,” if they wish to report wrongdoing.
Since July, UN and Cambodian officials have disagreed over whe-
ther Cambodian staff at the tribunal should be permitted to lodge grievances on the UN side of the court, as a handful of Cambodian staff did last year leading to the controversial kickback allegations, which have been reviewed by the UN though the results have been kept confidential.
Mr Phay Siphan, secretary of state at the Council of Ministers and a participant in this week’s meetings, said Thursday that unnamed donor countries had expressed the view that the UN should accept the Cambodian proposal.
“My [Cabinet Minister] explained to an ambassador and then the ambassadors, they agreed to the draft that the Cambodians had,” Mr Phay Siphan said.
“One of the ambassadors, I don’t want to say who, recommended to Peter [Taksoe-Jensen] to go ahead and sign it,” he said.
Despite the announced end to discussions, the government still believes progress can continue, he added. “It’s not the end of the road.”
Questions submitted to UN headquarters in New York
were not immediately answered Thursday.
Both UNDP and the Australian Embassy on Thursday declined to comment.
“We don’t have any comment at all on anything to do with the ECCC this week,” an Australian Embassy spokeswoman said. As a budget crisis loomed in April last year, which ensued as donor funding for the Cambodian side of the court was halted amid a corruption probe, Australia donated $456,000 to the court’s Cambodian budget.
The embassies of France, which also donated $250,000 to the Cambodian side in April, and Japan, which so far has contributed $3.1 million directly to the tribunal’s Cambodian side, refused to take sides in this week’s disagreement.
“The government of Japan follows the both parties’ efforts and encourages them to reach an agreement,” the Japanese Embassy said in a statement. A French Embassy official who declined to be named said simply that France supported the conclusion of an agreement but confirmed that French funds had yet to be unfrozen.
Since the kickback allegations were first made public in August, UN officials have said privately that their negotiating position on the reporting mechanism could be constrained by donor countries seeking a less stringent compromise than that proposed by the UN.
Donors have imposed their will on the UN in the past. Citing Cambodian recalcitrance on international fair trial standards, UN negotiators in 2002 abandoned talks on the treaty to establish the Khmer Rouge tribunal. However, that year a UN General Assembly resolution, sponsored by several of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s current donor countries, called on the UN to resume negotiations.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of rights groups, said it was concerned by the failure to conclude an agreement.
The Foreign Ministry said Thursday that Prime Minister Hun Sen and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon are due to hold bilateral talks on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Thailand on Sunday. An agenda for the talks was not immediately available.
(Additional reporting by Phann Ana)