Phnom Penh diplomats reacted with caution Thursday to the news that the UN is having problems raising money from member nations to finance a joint UN-Sierra Leone war crimes trial, saying it doesn’t necessarily mean trouble for an expected Khmer Rouge tribunal.
On March 23, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan sent a letter seeking donations to fund legal proceedings, which are estimated to cost $30 million annually. So far, only the United Kingdom has responded, promising $715,000, The Associated Press reported.
The tribunal would prosecute atrocities dating back to 1996 that occurred during civil war in the small West African nation. Annan had wanted member nations to be required to help pay for the tribunal, but the UN Security Council opted instead for voluntary contributions, the AP said.
Hans Corell, the UN’s legal counsel, met Tuesday with countries that support the Sierra Leone tribunal to review the budget and planning. A UN spokesman said some diplomats were concerned that the costs were too high, the AP reported.
Kent Wiedemann, US ambassador to Cambodia, said Thursday that Sierra Leone’s problems don’t necessarily mean that planning for the Khmer Rouge tribunal will face similar trouble.
“Going back some months, major elements in the international community stood up and told the UN that they would support [a Khmer Rouge trial] fully,” he said. Other sources said about eight nations have committed to providing financial and technical support. And while no one is sure what a Khmer Rouge tribunal would cost, Wiedemann said, numbers being tossed around last year “were much lower than those for Sierra Leone.”
Diplomats in Cambodia also noted that the Khmer Rouge trial would not be a joint UN-Cambodia trial, but—at Cambodia’s request—a Cambodian trial with international cooperation.
“We have already committed to the government that we would provide judges, or funds,” said Ian Felton, second in command at the British Embassy.
Japan, Cambodia’s biggest benefactor, is unwavering in its strong support for a Khmer Rouge trial. “I hope efforts by Cambodia and the international community to realize the proceedings of the Khmer Rouge tribunal will continue,” said Ambassador Gotaro Ogawa. But, he added, “It’s very difficult to see at this stage how it will be done.”
Following promising activity earlier this year, progress toward a Khmer Rouge tribunal has bogged down again.
Technical problems in the draft law passed in January mean a new version must be considered and approved.
The National Assembly, which was to have resumed Wednesday, remains on holiday at least until next week.
Once the law is passed, UN representatives and the government must draw up a detailed memorandum of understanding, spelling out the details of how the tribunal will be conducted. Some observers say that process is not likely to be completed before the end of the year.
Canadian Ambassador Normand Mailhot said that until there is a memorandum of understanding, “Canada will not discuss what we are prepared to do to help.”