With financial support for the Khmer Rouge tribunal too weak to live out the year, fundraising is the first order of business, the UN secretary-general’s newly appointed special expert on the court said Tuesday.
Clint Williamson, the former US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues who was named UN special expert to the tribunal on July 1, said he would spend the coming months helping to drum up financial contributions and visiting donor nations’ capitals.
“Obviously, the most pressing matter is addressing the financial stability of the court for the remainder of 2010 and through 2011, and this will require a significant commitment of time and energy in the coming months,” Mr Williamson wrote in an e-mail.
Mr Williamson arrived in Phnom Penh on Tuesday ahead of a week of meetings with court and government officials, his first since his appointment.
He replaces David Tolbert, who stepped down nearly two years ago after completing a six-month assignment to redraft the court’s budget and reform its management and anticorruption measures.
Known as a master bureaucrat and perceived as an adversary by some Cambodian officials, Mr Tolbert adopted a man-in-the-night strategy, releasing little information and making unannounced visits to Phnom Penh at a time when the court experienced acute internal divisions. UN headquarters denied requests for an interview with Mr Tolbert when he left his position.
Since Mr Tolbert stepped down, the tribunal has been buffeted by controversy, with six senior CPP officials flouting summonses by a foreign judge, claims by Prime Minister Hun Sen that new investigations of Khmer Rouge regime suspects risked provoking civil war, a protracted process to replace a UN prosecutor, and the start of a fund-raising campaign for the court that met with less than total success, leaving the court $4 million shy of this year’s budget shortfall.
The court is now under heavy suspicion from court monitors, NGOs and defense lawyers who accuse its Cambodian side of subservience to the government, which both sides of the court have publicly denied. Such accusations have been inspired principally by hostile public statements about new investigations by Mr Hun Sen and other officials.
Since Mr Tolbert stepped down, there has been no UN point man to help win the confidence and engagement of the many parties involved in the court, despite public and private calls for such a position to be filled.
Mr Williamson said his own mandate was, at the request of UN headquarters, “wide-ranging and flexible” enough to address a broader set of matters than those assigned to Mr Tolbert.
He said donor reluctance to fund the court reflected less dissatisfaction with its operations than it did tough fiscal times for most countries.
The so-called Independent Counselor anticorruption mechanism, established in August by the UN and the Cambodian government after mediation involving Mr Williamson in his former position with the US government, was only one of several means of ensuring that the court operates in an effective, transparent manner.
It is not “a be-all and end-all solution to every problem,” Mr Williamson said of the mechanism.
“If anyone is expecting that, they will be disappointed,” he said. “If, however, they view it for what it is–as one tool that is available for staff to use when they have concerns–then I think they will embrace the concept.”
Allegations of political interference, while serious, may not be well founded, he added.
“Obviously, allegations of political interference are very serious and they cannot be casually dismissed,” Mr Williamson said.
“In the end, though, it is not the fact that political statements were made or not, it is the impact, if any, that they have on the judicial process which is important,” he said, noting that other war crimes tribunals had also been the subject of contentious remarks by political leaders.
“I’m not sure, though, that you can always establish a clear link between whatever decision was taken and what was said by a political leader,” he wrote. “The same is true of the ECCC.”
“The concept of judicial independence at the ECCC is not, however, reliant solely on individual actions. There are also robust institutional safeguards in place to ensure that the integrity of the process is protected and we have seen those safeguards work effectively.”