KRT Staff Threaten To Stop Work Over Salaries

Frustrated staff on the national side of the Extraordinary Cham­bers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) on Tuesday demanded an explanation as to why they have not been paid since December, and threatened to stop work at the war crimes tribunal if they are not satisfied with the response.

More than half of the 300 un­paid staff, which includes Cambo­dian judges and prosecutors, wrote to the court’s Office of Ad­min­­istration and warned that they will stop work if the cash-strapped tribunal fails to pay their overdue monthly wages.

“[We] are facing a serious crisis, because [we] have not re­ceived pay since December 2012. [We] don’t know when this difficult situation will be resolved. The non-payment is badly affecting our daily lives and demoralized us to work,” court staff wrote in one of three joint letters, which were quoted on Tuesday by ECCC press officer Neth Pheaktra.

“If any news or any source cannot confirm when [we] will get paid and get paid regularly…[we] will consider finding other possibilities to survive by [our]selves, including temporarily stopping work for ECCC,” the letter adds.

A similar work stoppage was narrowly prevented last year by a last-minute pledge of funds and payment of overdue salaries to the national side of the court.

Mr. Pheaktra said that funding woes had also affected the signing of work contracts for national staff this year.

“All national staff continue to work without contract since 1st January 2013. The Administration Office cannot prolong their contracts because the national side has received no new funding pledg­es from donor countries for 2013 until now,” the letter says.

In late December, Cambodian staff at the tribunal were warned by Tony Kranh, acting director of the ECCC’s Office of Admini­stra­tion, that they would not be paid sal­aries after December because the court had no funds to do so.

The staff was also told that their salaries for December would be paid two weeks later than usual. Those salaries have not yet been paid because, according to Mr. Pheaktra, “technical issues” are holding up the release of $300,000 pledged to the court by the Euro­pean Union.

The hybrid war crimes court is comprised of national and U.N.-appointed international staff, and recent pledges of funds from Ja­pan ($2.5 million), the U.K. ($962,000) and New Zealand ($163,000) were all made to the in­­ternational side of the tribunal.

The reluctance of international donors to fund the national side of the Khmer Rouge tribunal stems largely from long-standing is­sues related to corruption, in­cluding accusations of jobs-for-kickbacks among staff at the court, and allegations of political in­terference, said Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cam­­bodian Justice Initiative, which monitors the court.

“One of the problems is about political influence and the second is corruption allegations in 2007,” Mr. Long said in reference to the kickback scheme that was ex­posed in February of that year.

“I think it’s also a test, because the Cambodian government is al­so supposed to contribute to na­tional side. Does the Cam­bo­dian government care? They should invest in the court,” he said.

Another issue giving donors cold feet, he said, are a number of cases across the country’s judicial system that give rise to concerns that the ECCC is not leaving the positive legacy it was hoped it might.

“[U.N. Special Expert on Uni­t­ed Na­tions Assistance for the Khmer Rouge Trials] David Schef­­fer is advocating with do­nors that funding will go toward strengthening the rule of law,” he said.

“But more than that, the ECCC needs to ensure donors that it is corruption free and a model for courts in Cambodia.”

The government pays for most operational costs on the court’s national side, but Cambodian staff salaries are dependent on international donor funding. Between Oc­to­ber 2011 and February 2012, na­tional staff also went without pay due to a funding shortage. The situation was only remedied following threats to stop work at the court.

Mr. Pheaktra said the salary protest letters were sent by the court’s management section, the Interpreter and Translation unit and the Supreme Court Cham­ber. More departments are ex­pec­t­ed to submit similar letters to­day, he said.

“The national component of the ECCC needs $9.3 million to operate in 2013 as reported by next year’s revised budget,” Mr. Pheak­­tra said.

“We hope that the ECCC’s key donor countries will endorse the revised budget for 2013 as soon as possible and provide funding to sustain the court’s work and avoid disrupting the current active and smooth hearing process.”

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