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Comment: Address graft charges or jeopardise the KR tribunal

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Judicial process in peril if donors don't commit more funding


Newly appointed judges to the ECCC, Catherine Marchi-Uhel of France (left) and Siegfried Blunk of Germany were officially sworn in Friday. During last week’s plenary session, tribunal judges called for corruption allegations to be fully investigated.

The growing number of allegations of corruption in the form of required staff kickback payments at the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) causes grave concern about the integrity of this court that is designed to promote the end of impunity. 

The credibility of the court now depends on its ability to prove that it is corruption-free. We welcome the statements of ECCC Judge Sylvia Cartwright at the opening of the plenary session of judges on September 1, 2008, that "these historic trials, which are so important for the people of Cambodia, must not be tainted by corruption", and that claims of corruption must be resolved in a transparent manner. We welcome the recent step of all the judges of the ECCC to strengthen the Code of Ethics to which they are bound. These steps enhance the credibility of the court.

Members of the NGO community in Cambodia have been strong supporters of an independent and credible tribunal to address Khmer Rouge crimes in a manner that meets international standards and leaves behind a strong legacy for Cambodian courts. 

These goals cannot be met if the ECCC tolerates the practice of graft that requires staff or officials to pay back a portion of their salaries to get or keep their jobs. The allegations that such demands are being made of Cambodian staff or officials at the ECCC must be definitively dealt with. 

Protect whistleblowers

In addition to the Cambodian side of the court, the Government of Cambodia, the United Nations and the donor community have a responsibility to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to eliminate alleged corrupt practices from the ECCC.

No longer can the Cambodian government, the UN and the donors ignore this problem because the allegations threaten the ability of the court to continue as a credible institution in the eyes of the people of Cambodia.

Staff of the ECCC who have come forward to give an account of such practices display courage and risk their personal and professional security and perhaps that of their family members. Without their courage, corruption cannot be addressed.  They provide hope that the ECCC can serve to prove that progress can be made to eliminate corruption from judicial institutions in Cambodia. We urge the Cambodian government, the UN and the donor community to take strong steps to provide adequate whistleblower protection and support for these people.

Over the last year the Director of Administration, the UNDP and donor representatives assured the public that they will have a "robust" program to deal with corruption allegations.  The fact that allegations came forward first in early 2007 and again in the spring of 2008 - after claims that they had been dealt with fully - raises concerns about the sufficiency and effectiveness of the commitment of the parties and the mechanisms put in place. The court's integrity may be irreparably damaged if the problem is not dealt with now and comes up for a third time. The court must assure the public it has adequate mechanisms to deal with allegations of corruption in a timely and conclusive manner. The process must be transparent while protecting the rights and interests of those that come forward.

The ECCC can still bring justice

Finally, while the allegations of corruption are discouraging, we continue to believe that the ECCC can succeed in its goal of providing some justice for the people of Cambodia.  Encouraging progress has been made on the cases before the Court, which must continue without interruption. The ECCC, like other tribunals dealing with international crimes, requires significant resources to complete its mission of providing justice and a model of legal reform to Cambodia. We urge donors to continue to provide adequate financial support to the court, while ensuring that the corruption is effectively addressed. 

The following NGOs endorse the above statement:

Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC); Coalition of Civil Society Organization Against Corruption (CoCSOAC); PACT Cambodia; Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC); Center for Social Development (CSD); Khmer Institute for Democracy (KID); Cambodia Justice Initiative (CJI); Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP); Youth for Peace (YfP); People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center); Khmer Youth Association (KYA)



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