A special adviser to the US ambassador-at-large for War Crimes Issues is visiting Cambodia as part of Washington’s assessment on possible funding for the cash-strapped Khmer Rouge tribunal, an embassy official said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle wrote in an e-mail Tuesday that Joseph Mellot, who is with the State Department’s Office of War Crime Issues, has been in Cambodia since Friday as part of that continuing assessment.
Washington has yet to provide direct funding to the tribunal, and the US Congress has banned such support pending a certification by the US secretary of state that the court meets so-called international standards.
A draft budget from the Khmer Rouge tribunal in January called for $114 million in additional funds for the court to continue its work, which was initially budgeted at $56.3 million.
Donors and court officials say that budget is being reworked, and a new, slimmer version is scheduled for discussion at a donor meeting at UN headquarters in New York next week.
US Senator John Kerry weighed in on funding in a column published Thursday in The Lowell Sun newspaper in the US state of Massachusetts, in which he urged the US to give the tribunal $2 million for victims’ rights and witness protection programs overseen by the UN.
“[T]here is a real danger that the [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] will collapse before it even gets off the ground. Direct American support is needed,” Kerry wrote.
At least two controversial issues remain under discussion, according to people close to the budget process: how long the court should continue its work and how the court should budget for the possibility of additional prosecutions.
US officials have been outspoken about concerns over the political independence of the court, as well as allegations of corruption.
Kerry wrote that though most of those issues “have been addressed,” deeper US involvement is a chance to ensure “a legitimate process going forward.”
“With American backing, we can use our financial leverage to improve the process. Specifically, our involvement could effect higher standards of transparency, independence, integrity, more effective witness protection, meaningful victim participation, and adequate anti-corruption measures,” Kerry wrote.
“We can also assist ongoing UN efforts to ensure that the trials proceed fairly,” he added.
So far, only France, which has promised the court an additional $1 million, and Australia, which in April pledged AU$500,000 (currently $480,000) to the Cambodian side of the court, have proffered more funds.
“If we were to consider funding for the Tribunal, we would rely on a continuing assessment of facts about the Tribunal and its operations, including whether or not it is capable of meeting international standards of justice,” Daigle wrote in his e-mail message Tuesday.
“The UN and RGC withdrew the budget documents submitted to donors in January and are currently reviewing the ECCC’s needs. We would prefer to comment once we have reviewed the revised request, which we understand will be presented within the next few weeks,” Daigle added.
Officials from both sides of the ECCC on Tuesday welcomed the possibility of US funding.
“We are very grateful for assistance from whatever quarter,” the tribunal’s Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said.