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KRT trims budget by millions

After seven years of rising costs and regular funding shortfalls, the Khmer Rouge tribunal is trimming its fiscal sails.

The final 2014-2015 budget for the tribunal, approved last week, marks a substantial reduction from budgets in years past for both the national and international sides of the court.

The new budget of $60.5 million represents an 11 per cent decrease from the $67.6 million allocated in 2012 and 2013, the court’s two most expensive years to date.

The cuts will be made primarily in the form of staff reductions on both sides of the court. Overall, the court’s international side will shed 12 posts by 2015, while the court’s national side will drop by more than 100, with the Office of Administration alone to eliminate 85 positions.

Nonetheless, in a statement accompanying the announcement, the court’s acting administration office director Tony Kranh said that he “welcome[d] the endorsement of the new budget, and strongly appeal[ed] to the donor community to provide necessary financial support to the ECCC”.

In an email yesterday, court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said the hefty reductions, particularly on the national side, were an effort to help the court avoid incidents like the two strikes over unpaid wages last year, which cost the court weeks of productivity.

“The budget for the national side for 2014 is 30% less [than] 2013 due to the administrative reform and [in] response to the current need[s] of the court,” Pheaktra said. “This reduction is also aiming to avoid the financial problem that the national side met in the past.”

According to court legal communications officer Lars Olsen, the Group of Interested States that approved the latest budget is comprised of “basically all the donors”, and last week’s endorsement demonstrates that those holding the purse strings “are comfortable with the budget”. Indeed, the United States, one of the court’s largest donors, said yesterday that it was in favour of the court’s efforts to trim its financial requirements.

“The United States supports the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts in Cambodia’s (ECCC) efforts to streamline its operations and use resources more efficiently,” US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh said in an email yesterday.

“We continue to support the mandate of the ECCC to bring justice to the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge and those most responsible for the atrocities of that era.”

However, Cambodia Justice Initiative program officer Panhavuth Long said yesterday that while the cuts were “good news”, the court needed to strike while the iron was hot.

“The judges need to use this as an opportunity to regain the momentum [among donors],” he said.

At the same time, Long warned against sacrificing efficiency in the interest of a leaner budget, expressing concerns that deep staffing cuts could affect the court’s ability to push ahead as it transitions into the second segment of Case 002, and theoretically further, into Cases 003 and 004.

According to the budget document, the court’s pre-trial chamber will lose two staffers, and the court’s Office of the Co-Investigating Judges, which has been quietly continuing its examination of the controversial government-opposed Cases 003 and 004, will lose four.

“The court has been operating for seven years, so I think that it is time that the court scales down the staff, or scale down some chambers or sections. I think this is normal,” Long said, noting the court’s ad hoc nature.

“But it’s also worrying whether the cuts are affecting the ability of the trial chamber to continue Case 002 or not, and second, whether the cuts are also affecting the office of the co-investigators,” he said. “As you know, Case 003 and 004 are still under investigation.”

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