The profound troubles in staffing and administration that the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia has begun to tackle raise questions about the financial future of the court, which is scheduled to launch a fundraising campaign later this month.
Donors have stopped short of saying they would pull out of the tribunal, but they do say they are watching intently to ensure that the problems get fixed.
The Cambodian side is slated to run out of funds early next year and the UN side towards the end of 2008. Whether they will get sufficient reassurance before their coffers run dry and how willing donors will be to route funds through the Cambodian side of the court are becoming increasingly pressing questions.
“We will have to see whether the remedial actions (including the establishment of new recruitment procedures, the revision of salary scales and job profiles and other measures aimed at increasing the transparency of the human resource policies of the tribunal) already identified, and now beginning to be implemented, are sufficient,” Rafael Dochao Moreno, the charge d’affaires of the European Commission, said in an e-mail.
“Any further EC funding will be contingent on the conclusions we draw on this matter,” he said.
One Phnom Penh diplomat said on condition of anonymity that many donors are loath to contribute to the Cambodian side of the court.
“In the next donor meeting, we will have two baskets on the table: the international basket and the Cambodian basket. Japan, France, and Australia will give to the international basket. Nobody wants to put money in the Cambodian basket,” the diplomat said. “Maybe the Cambodian government will have to pay.”
And it might already be too late to avoid a budget crunch, the diplomat added. “Fundraising cannot take place in October. Nothing is ready. The budget process is not a quick process.”
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said fundraising was on track and that donors recognize the court needs more money. “As far as I know, we’re still on target for the end of October, but that could change,” she said.
The court is launching a joint fundraising appeal, but Jarvis acknowledged that it will be up to donors to decide where to put their money. The cash on the Cambodian side of the court is primarily used to pay national staff salaries.
“A bird cannot fly with one wing,” Jarvis said. “We’ll have to find a resolution. Of course we need funding on both sides. On such an unfortunate contingency, I don’t want to speculate at this point.”
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Monday in an e-mail message that it was too early to say whether the Cambodian government, which has so far contributed $1.5 million in cash to the court and an estimated $5.3 million in kind, might come up with more money. “You will know when the time comes,” he said. “The remaining question is whether the outsiders want the tribunal [to] start its process or not. We are fed up with this ‘another day, another drama’ plot.”
Some believe that longstanding allegations that Cambodian court staffers had to pay kickbacks in exchange for their jobs should be more fully investigated.
UN Development Program auditors maintained that the UNDP—which oversees $6.4 million for the Cambodian side of the court—should drop the issue because a preliminary investigation had uncovered no conclusive evidence of kickbacks, and that they could not, in any event, investigate Cambodian government employees at the court.
In the diplomat’s opinion, the logic is faulty. “This is not a good spirit for dealing with this business. You have to deal with every kind of fraud. It’s very worrying to see,” the diplomat said. “[The tribunal] is a great investment for the Cambodian government. It’s stupid for them to ruin it with a story of kickbacks.”
UNDP spokesman Men Kimseng declined comment Monday.
Khieu Kanharith on Monday again denied the kickback charges. “We already make clear since the beginning. There is no kickback,” he said.
Jarvis maintained that no hard evidence to support the charges has yet come to light. “To launch an investigation without specific charges is tantamount to an inquisition,” she said.
Jarvis added that the ECCC’s director of administration, Sean Visoth, reacted swiftly—by posting a notice condemning kickbacks and setting up anonymous complaint boxes at the court—after the Open Society Justice Initiative, a New York-based court monitor, first publicized the kickback allegations in February. Subsequent to the UNDP audit, the Cambodian side of the ECCC has also adopted a mandatory code of ethics.
But some question the adequacy of those measures. Sean Visoth’s February notice to staffers about the kickbacks began with a less-than-ringing admonition: “Recently, some newspapers publicized their article(s) without proof or precise basis relevant to the kickback of the salaries of judges and staff at the ECCC,” it read.
Robert Varenkik, OSJI acting executive director, said in an e-mail from New York City that the court must do more.
“The ECCC needs to address two audiences: it must demonstrate to the Cambodian people that it is a credible judicial institution, and must show donors that it is worthy of their investment,” he said. “The ECCC has taken several small steps to address the concerns about corrupt practices related to kickbacks of staff salaries. While helpful, much stronger and more direct steps to prevent this practice from occurring in the future should be taken.”