Two years ago, the Khmer Rouge tribunal announced that after successive human resources audits it had adopted broad-based reforms to how it hired Cambodian personnel.
The court and UN officials trumpeted the reforms, which included a personnel handbook, as a way of resolving kickback allegations in which some staff alleged they had to return a portion of their pay in exchange for being hired.
Independent auditors found in 2008 that the new measures were “robust,” and in April 2008 the court’s Director of Administration, Sean Visoth, defended the reputed $100,000 cost of the hiring audits: “International standards come with a price.”
But Cambodian court officials now say the court does not necessarily follow the guidelines established in the personnel handbook, which mandates competitive recruitment but has not governed recent appointments to the court’s victims support section.
On Wednesday, Rong Chhorng, the court’s former chief of personnel, was named head of the victims support section through a noncompetitive hiring process in which no public call was made for applicants.
A court spokesman said last year that Mr Chhorng’s predecessor, Helen Jarvis, who stepped down in June, was also appointed in 2009 “as a re-deployment” and not as a result of competitive recruiting.
Tony Kranh, the tribunal’s acting chief of administration, said yesterday that hiring decisions were not always made according to the personnel handbook, and that sometimes the court relied only on the ECCC law, which has little to say about recruitment.
“We have in our hands as administrators two equal means” of recruitment, Mr Kranh said, referring to the law establishing the tribunal and the personnel handbook.
Practices at the court had “evolved” since the 2008 reforms, he said.
Mr Chhorng explained yesterday that the court only recruited competitively when a candidate could not be found within the Cambodian civil service.
“We have an ECCC law, and in the law it says the national staff will be appointed…from the ranks of civil servants at the request of the Director of Administration,” he said.
“When we talk about the personnel handbook, this is a complementary tool in recruitment for positions not available in the government’s civil service, for example translators and interpreters, so we send it to the market.”
The US, one of the tribunal’s biggest donors, said yesterday it would examine the reports of noncompetitive hiring.
“The embassy will likely make appropriate inquiries with court officials on the issue,” a spokesman for the US Embassy in Phnom Penh wrote in an e-mail.
The personnel handbook mandates competitive recruitment “in all cases.” This includes placing advertisements in at least two local newspapers and sending job notices to embassies and NGOs.
The handbook was drafted after a 2007 audit uncovered serious recruitment problems and concluded that the court’s hiring process “was not transparent, competitive and objective.”
As head of personnel until Wednesday, Mr Chhorng was charged with “assuring quality and transparency in public recruitment” and developing and maintaining the personnel handbook.
Mr Chhorng compared his hiring to that of Ms Jarvis, whom he said was asked by Mr Kranh to move directly to the victims unit from her position as head of the office of public affairs.
“You might know that I’m already qualified given my performance,” he added, declining to elaborate on his other qualifications for working with victims.
Court spokesman Reach Sambath declined Wednesday to comment on Mr Chhorng’s relevant experience, other than to say: “Rong Chhorng as well also considers himself a victim.”
Long Panhavuth, a project officer at the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said it was crucial that the court’s hiring guidelines be consistently applied.
“The ECCC has previously had problems with corruption and malpractice, that’s why they introduced the court handbook, so I would say that it is surprising that the staff of the court said that it is up to them to choose when and how and where to apply it,” he said.
“I think it would make the victims unit even more effective if the head were recruited competitively.”
The victim support section, which has cycled through three directors in the space of little more than a year, was also the target of criticism in a report released yesterday by watchdog group Open Society Justice Initiative, which said the unit was not fulfilling its mandate.
In February, the court’s judges instituted sweeping changes to victim participation, limiting civil parties’ procedural rights while broadening the mandate of the victims unit to include non-judicial outreach activities.
However, more than six months later, the victims’ office has not acted on this mandate at all, except to send a questionnaire to civil society organizations in June.
“There is no information that the court has begun developing or carrying out the ‘non-legal measures’ to assist victims,” the report said.
Mr Chhorng said the victims office had not taken any steps to expand its activities because it did not fully understand the new mandate.
“We are not really expanded yet,” he said. “There’s not much clarification…. Non-judicial measures, we don’t have much clarification and well understood on this non-judicial measures.”
He said the office would seek clarification on the meaning of its expanded mandate at a plenary meeting this month.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)