Acting unilaterally Monday, the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Cambodian side publicized a report on last month’s joint discussions with the UN to develop anticorruption measures for the court.
Released to the media late Monday evening, the two-page report gave details of recent UN and Cambodian efforts to agree on a means to process staff complaints of misconduct.
The joint discussions were begun with the UN in December as the question of alleged kickbacks threatened to block the resumption of funding to the court’s Cambodian side. The funding is due to be exhausted as soon as next month.
In an e-mail Monday evening, tribunal Public Affairs Chief Helen Jarvis said both sides had hoped to submit the results of their negotiations jointly to the court’s chief donors and to the Cambodian government by a Jan 31 deadline. However, the UN side’s contribution had not yet been received, she said.
“[W]e feel obliged to go ahead with our own draft,” she wrote.
According to the report, a team of three UN officials on Jan 14 proposed an entirely new mechanism for reporting alleged misconduct at the court involving “an independent Ethics Officer, an Ethics Committee and the ECCC Pre-Trial Chamber.” UN officials had privately described Cambodian reporting procedures unveiled by the court in August and September as inadequate.
The Cambodian side responded Jan 20, saying it understood the UN was to establish only a “parallel mechanism,” rather than one governing both the Cambodian and international sides of the court.
According to the report, the Cambodian side then responded on Jan 28 to a revised UN proposal.
“We are awaiting the response of the UN team,” the Cambodian side said in the report, which described the discussions as “positive, with both sides working constructively.”
It was unclear Monday evening whether a UN report on the discussions would be made public, or why the UN had not yet produced its version of the report.
UN officials at the court Monday evening referred questions to the Office of Legal Affairs in New York, where officials said Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksøe-Jensen was not immediately available for comment.
UN officials said last week that the UN had long foreseen difficulties in cooperation with Cambodian officials and were likely to come under donor pressure to compromise in the current discussions.
Officials at the UN Office of Legal Affairs have in recent days declined to discuss efforts to resolve the kickbacks issue.
At the close of a high-level UN visit in December led by Taksøe-Jensen, UN and Cambodian officials publicly pledged to develop proposals for reforms to the court to strengthen anticorruption measures and guarantee whistle-blower protections.
Shortly before the Christmas holiday, UN legal officers in New York gave briefings to the group of interested states—the broader community of countries financially supporting the court—and to the steering committee, a select group of four of the court’s chief donors. However, donors said last week they are still waiting for details.
“They haven’t given us any inkling of the detailed proposals they’re making to the joint sessions,” a donor country representative said on condition of anonymity.
After Cambodian court staff last year formally complained to UN officials that they had been asked to pay kickbacks for jobs at the court, international donors instructed the UN Development Program to freeze funding to the Cambodian side, which has received no further financial contributions.
So far, Cambodian authorities have not acted on UN calls for an investigation, though a Phnom Penh prosecutor is now reviewing allegations made by a tribunal defense team.
Resolving the kickbacks matter is crucial to allowing the court to continue to function as it starts its first trial, the initial hearing for which is scheduled to be held in two weeks.
The UN Office of Legal Affairs “was never very hopeful that the ECCC would be workable under its agreed [hybrid] structure,” said a UN official not directly involved in the discussions.
“If things go completely pear-shaped, there may be some in OLA who will be, if not happy, at least feeling vindicated that they were correct in their original views,” the official said.
“In the end, however, it will be the donors who decide which way to move, not the UN staffers,” the official added.