More than 10 percent of staff at the Khmer Rouge tribunal did not have their contracts renewed on Monday as the court sought to tighten its purse strings and save $1 million in the face of the continued funding woes blighting its national component, a tribunal spokesman said Wednesday.
Neth Pheaktra said the reductions affected 30 of the court’s 260 national staff as part of a “normal process” and that the court was “regularly reviewing its staffing requirements” to ensure that the tribunal remains cost efficient.
“This restructuring affects all sections [of the court],” Mr. Pheaktra said, adding that the decision to reduce staff took place as part of a regular budget review and because of shortfalls in funding for the national side of the court.
“So, we need to reform from a heavy structure to an efficient structure and spend less,” he said. “The number of defendants was reduced after the death of Ieng Sary, and Ieng Thirith was found unfit to stand trial, and Case 001 was closed.
“The Administration has an obligation to guarantee the minimum services to the ECCC. With this review of its staffing, the national side can save $1 million in its budget for 2013.”
Most of those whose contracts have not been renewed were staff working in the court’s general service section, which includes drivers and janitors. Staff in the public affairs section and the interpretation and translation unit were also affected.
The decision is just the latest event to highlight the trickle of funding coming in for the Cambodian side of the hybrid tribunal. Court monitors have said that other countries are reticent to give more money because of a number of allegations of corruption and political interference in the proceedings at the war crimes court.
Making matters even worse for the national side, there is no money left to pay any of the remaining staff at the court for the month of June.
“The shortfall from May to the end of 2013 is $3.4 million (the 2013 approved budget is $9.4 million) for the national side of the ECCC,” Mr. Pheaktra said in an email.
Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of repercussions, a staff member at the tribunal said Wednesday that some of the laid-off staff “were not happy to leave the court, because they know they could still provide a good service to the court.”
“I think the environment isn’t good here at the court. It’s pretty bad because at the end of every month, you’d be talking to colleagues about when you’d be paid, and now we just received a note from the Office of Administration telling us that staff members would not be paid for month of June, because the court does not have enough money to pay salaries.”
In March, staff from the interpretation and translation unit went on strike for a week following three months of threats and after they failed to receive their salaries for December, January, and February and were working without any contracts since the start of the year.
That wage crisis was averted at the end of March when the court’s U.N. special expert, David Scheffer, secured funds.
Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, a group that monitors the court, said he understood the need to cut back on some employment contracts after Case 001 was wrapped up, Ieng Sary died and Ieng Thirith was declared unfit to stand trial.
“It’s the right time to wind up and downsize staff who are not relevant,” he said. “Some offices are not operating fully, such as the Pre-Trial Chamber and the Supreme Court Chamber.
“But there are some staff who are very important so the proceedings can continue, for example in Case 002, translators need to be fully equipped so hearings can continue without delay.”
Still, Mr. Long said funding appears to be an ongoing problem because of the lack of a clear schedule as to when Case 002—which comprises a number of “mini-trials”—will actually finish.