Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia Director of Administration Sean Visoth has told donors he believes the ECCC budget now under review should be limited to trying the five defendants already awaiting trial to ensure the court’s work can proceed without delay.
In the interest of expediency, the budget “should project the budgetary and time requirements to deal with the five cases in hand at the ECCC today,” he wrote in remarks prepared for a meeting last Thursday of Friends of the ECCC, a Phnom Penh donor group, and posted to the tribunal’s Web site.
Should prosecutors and judges want to try more people, he said, “we will of course have to return to the donors to seek additional funding.”
The suggestion runs counter to the current budget assessment, which takes into account the potential for additional defendants, and has sparked fears that fiscal constraints may limit too severely the number of prosecutions.
The ECCC, originally budgeted at $56.3 million, this year began asking donors for an additional $114 million to try an estimated eight defendants through 2011. Donors balked at that price tag, and David Tolbert, the newly appointed expert adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on ECCC issues, has been working to craft a revised budget.
Tolbert’s budget makes room for additional prosecutions, according to three people familiar with negotiations. “One thing is what the ECCC says and another is what the UN says and what Mr Tolbert is preparing,” said one diplomat who attended the Friends meeting and spoke on condition of anonymity.
“We are confident in what Tolbert is doing. He’s projecting the expense of this tribunal based on what is now and what could be in the future,” he said. “This is the trickiest thing right now at the tribunal—at the end will there be five or 10 or 12 [prosecutions]? We don’t know.”
Tribunal Co-Prosecutor Robert Petit said Sunday that “the evidence and the law will dictate our decisions and those have not been taken yet.”
Co-Prosecutor Chea Leang could not be reached for comment.
In his statement, Sean Visoth said the budget should be calculated based on prosecution of the five aging defendants now in detention to avoid delays. “The view of the government of Cambodia has always been that we wish to continue to be the lowest-budget tribunal working at the most efficient and speedy pace. Given the advanced age and frail health of the Charged Persons, and the long wait for justice of the Cambodian people, this process needs to be concluded without undue delay,” he wrote.
But some civil society groups worry this might be an attempt to squeeze the scope of prosecution through budgetary constraints. The government has long emphasized the need to limit the scope of prosecution so as not to undermine the nation’s hard-won peace, while international groups have long pushed for a more far-reaching judicial inquiry. Some have gone so far as to say that the court must bring more people into the dock to prove its political independence.
“Given the sheer scale of the atrocities that occurred during the Khmer Rouge period, limiting prosecutions to five individuals…would risk creating the perception that five individuals were in effect scapegoats for the crimes of others…. The submission of additional accused for investigation is necessary if the ECCC is to avoid creating the perception that inappropriate political calculations prevented a more extensive inquiry,” the Open Society Justice Initiative, a court watchdog, wrote in a draft report to be released today.
Heather Ryan, OSJI court monitor, said Sunday that it was hard to evaluate Sean Visoth’s comments on the budget. But, she added, “If it’s intended as a step to limit the prosecution to the existing five charged persons, that is a worrisome limitation on the discretion of the prosecutors.”
Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, said Sunday that he supports focusing on the five, but added, “The budget cannot and should not limit the scope of prosecution. Evidence should lead us.”
ECCC Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis on Sunday dismissed those concerns, saying, “At this time, the ECCC has five people charged and currently in provisional detention. Our clear obligation is to proceed with these cases in hand as quickly as possible, while maintaining international standards…. Our immediate priority is to secure the financial resources to carry out this task.”
“The director of administration stated that there is no intention to close the door on any future charges,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Yun Samean)