The Khmer Rouge tribunal’s biannual rule-making conference of judges began Monday amid discussions over whether it would hear from a UN expert on the court, participants said.
With the court’s first trial approaching, the agenda for the weeklong meeting, which is to consider changes to procedural rules and internal directives, includes trial transcripts, the scope of appeals and lawyers for victims, Trial Chamber President Kong Srim, the plenary’s president, told reporters.
However, participants in the first day’s meetings said morning discussions had largely been devoted to whether David Tolbert, the UN secretary-general’s special expert on the tribunal, would be allowed to address the session.
“Our Cambodian colleagues did not want to hear from Mr Tolbert,” said one participant who asked not to be named and added that Tolbert himself had asked to be heard.
“It had been foreseen that we would possibly hear from him this afternoon,” said the participant.
Tolbert, who arrived in Cambodia on Aug 24 and whose contract is nearing expiry, has helped the court craft a new budget and gain the confidence of donors as well as draft procedures for reporting irregularities on the court’s UN side.
The court’s UN side revealed last month that a UN oversight body is reviewing kickback allegations made by Cambodian staff. It is unclear when or if the findings will be made public.
New Zealand Trial Chamber Judge Silvia Cartwright said Tolbert’s interventions had effectively rescued the tribunal.
“Although the Special Representative of the Secretary-General David Tolbert will not be briefing us on the work he has undertaken in the last six months, I want to say publicly that without his support…the ECCC would now be very weak indeed,” Judge Cartwright said in opening remarks to the press.
“One of the major issues that has been troubling for all the judges is that of corruption within the ECCC. We welcome efforts to ensure that the allegations are dealt with fully and fairly and that independent measures are put in place to make sure, if there are further claims, that they are resolved in a transparent manner,” she added.
“We are agreed that these historic trials, which are so important for the people of Cambodia, must not be tainted by corruption.”
Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said Monday that he was not present for the plenary’s discussions Monday. Neither the tribunal’s Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis nor UN spokesman Peter Foster could be reached.
In a meeting last month, the court’s Cambodian judges pledged to prevent corruption and announced the establishment of a complaint reporting system for the Cambodian side of the court.
The court’s UN side is facing insolvency before the end of the year. However, in his remarks to the press, Kong Srim said the Cambodian side has funds to continue operating through the end of the first trial.
“So far, the Cambodian component of the budget looks secure until at least March 2009,” he said.
“We look forward to further contributions for both sides of the budget to enable us to complete our work.”