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UN says government to blame for shortfall

Both the United Nations and Human Rights Watch yesterday lambasted the Cambodian government in no uncertain terms for its failure to secure funding for the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s beleaguered national component.

The court is now facing a 140-person strike by national staffers following months of unpaid salaries.

While reiterating his support for the court, UN Special Expert to the tribunal David Scheffer said in a statement on Monday that the latest financial fiasco represented “a failure on the part of the Royal Government of Cambodia to meet its legal obligation to fund the salaries of most national staff at the Court”.

“The United Nations has pressed the Royal Government of Cambodia repeatedly to step up to its legal obligation so as to avoid such crises,” the statement continues.

Article 15 of the agreement that formed the tribunal states: “Salaries and emoluments of Cambodian judges and other Cambodian personnel shall be defrayed by the Royal Government of Cambodia.”

Article 16 states that salaries of international staff members are the responsibility of the UN.

However, court spokesman Neth Pheaktra noted yesterday that “in practice, on both sides, neither the UN nor the government pays for their side”, and that both sides are actually funded by international donations.

Deputy Prime Minister Sok An met earlier this week with the ambassadors for Japan and Australia – the court’s two biggest donors – to request more funding for the cash-strapped court. Both declined to pledge any new money to the court’s national side.

The government’s inability to meet the funding gap, said HRW, was in fact a stall tactic on the part of the government aimed at further disrupting the court’s work.

In its statement, it called the shortfall the government’s “latest attempt to undermine efforts to bring former Khmer Rouge leaders to justice”.

“Prime Minister Hun Sen has spent years obstructing the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders, but donors to the court have played along and continued to subsidize a seriously compromised court,” HRW Asia Director Brad Adams said in the statement, before urging donors to “withhold future contributions until the Cambodian government pays its agreed share of the costs of holding the Khmer Rouge accountable”.

In his own statement, acting tribunal Office of Administration director Tony Kranh seemingly ignored the accusations yesterday, thanking Scheffer for his fundraising efforts, and expressing his “hope that those who have suspended their work will be willing and able to return to active duty” when funds become available.

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