Proclaiming a “breakthrough” after a round of discussions on preventing corruption at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, UN and Cambodian officials Monday unveiled a complex new program for handling complaints of misconduct that would give equal responsibilities to the international and Cambodian sides of the court.
Speaking to reporters at the Council of Ministers on Monday evening, Cabinet Minister Sok An and Peter Taksøe-Jensen, UN assistant secretary-general for legal affairs, said they believed the new system will allow donors to resume funding to the Cambodian side of the tribunal, which is facing a budget crisis within weeks.
“I think this mutual understanding is a very good basis for the administration of the court to go forward and even the court to go forward,” Sok An told reporters.
“The key point of our understanding is about the successful working of the joint sessions…. They will work together in the joint sessions to clear out all the problems,” he said.
Taksøe-Jensen also told reporters he believed the agreements would at last draw a line under kickback allegations that have emanated from the court almost since its inception, and prompted some donors to halt funding.
“This is a major step in our common endeavors to put the whole issue of corruption behind us,” Taksøe-Jensen said. “I think this agreement that we have now will surely be received positively by the donor countries.”
However, the proposed new anticorruption program appeared to be significantly less than what UN officials had sought in unsuccessful discussions with the government in January.
Cambodian administrators earlier this month revealed that in private discussions in January, UN officials had proposed creating a single, overarching anticorruption program for both sides of the court that would have involved “an independent, international ethics monitor,” a so-called “ethics committee” and the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber.
The new program announced in a joint statement issued Monday evening would, however, leave untouched the anticorruption measures already put in place by the Cambodian side of the court, and involves the UN side setting up its own “parallel mechanism,” consisting of a single individual entrusted with receiving complaints.
Complaints received by either the international or national side of the tribunal would then be forwarded to a committee composed of equal numbers of Cambodian and UN officials that will require a super-majority, or the agreement of at least some members on both sides, for it to take any action.
The joint statement released Monday did not make clear whether the new system would prevent a repeat of the events of last year, when a handful of Cambodian staffers crossed the court’s administrative divide to inform UN officials of kickback allegations, which were subsequently reviewed in New York by the inspector-general arm of the UN.
The findings of that review have not been made public but reportedly called for a full investigation of the jobs-for-kickbacks allegations.
Heather Ryan, a court monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said that her organization was disappointed with Monday’s outcome.
“OSJI believes that the described agreement fails to address the allegations of corruption and represents a step backwards in that effort. And we are concerned that the UN is setting too low a bar for Cambodia and future hybrid efforts at independent justice,” she said.
Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant to the defense for former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, which has requested that Cambodian authorities investigate allegations of kickbacks at the court, said he had met with Taksøe-Jensen but declined to comment on the contents of their discussions.
According to the joint statement released Monday, the UN and the government are to exchange letters in the coming weeks to formalize the agreement, though details are still being negotiated.