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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New UN appointees smooth wrinkles in Khmer Rouge trial process

New UN appointees smooth wrinkles in Khmer Rouge trial process

Tracey Shelton

A statue of Grandfather Metal Club, Ta T'bong Dike, welcomes visitors to the ECCC. In Khmer folklore Ta T'bong Dike is the courthouse enforcer of truth and punisher of deception.

With two new senior managers in place on the UN side of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, even erstwhile critics of the court and its handling of the upcoming trials of former regime leaders are now saying the process is finally moving in the right direction.

UN special expert David Tolbert, who arrived in Phnom Penh in late April, has spent the past few weeks trimming the court's bloated budget and getting it into a form that makes tribunal donors more comfortable in coughing up the requisite funds to keep things moving.

The UN's new top administrator, Knut Rosandhaug, is also now in place and grappling with the "challenging work" of managing the massive bureaucracy that has grown up around efforts to hold the Khmer Rouge leadership accountable for crimes committed three decades ago.

The twin appointments have been welcomed by long-standing court watchers such as the Open Society Justice Initiative, the group which first drew attention to the so-called "kickbacks" scandal which erupted in early 2007, straining the reputation of the then newly minted tribunal.

"Both [new appointees] seem uniquely well-suited to their positions," OSJI told the Post on June 11. "We hope to see progress on many of the problems that have troubled the UN side of the court over the last year. They both seem committed to ensuring a more effective and transparent approach to the work of the court and we look forward to evidence of their success."

The court has long been plagued by allegations of corruption and mismanagement and earlier this year faced a funding shortfall with donors wary of plowing more money into a bureaucracy that appeared to be hemorrhaging cash.

The Cambodian government had vetoed the suggestion of a sole special advisor with authority over both the UN and Cambodian sides of the hybrid court, but donor demands for better leadership on the UN side of the tribunal appear to have been met with Tolbert’s appointment to manage the UN side of the court, and additional funding appears to be forthcoming.

Rosandhaug, a no-nonsense Norwegian lawyer with over 20 years of experience in areas of policymaking, negotiations, program management, human rights and conflict resolution, told the Post in a June 5 interview that "the first and most important issue for me is to get the trials up and running."

"I take the fact that we have detainees very seriously," he said, explaining why he feels speed is of the essence. "There are five people locked up who have lost their freedom ... I have already visited them and it is with me every day. On top of that they are all old and there are health issues."

On June 1, Rosandhaug took over the position of deputy director of administration at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia from Michelle Lee who had been at the UN-backed tribunal since its inception in 2006. He has spent the last four years with the UN Mission in Kosovo which was "very similar" to his new post, but managing the Cambodia tribunal, which he described as both "political" and "turbulent,” would be a challenge, he said.

Donors were mulling over a revised budget for the court doctored to cover only the five detainees currently in ECCC custody. Rosandhaug was being "shielded" from this process by his colleagues but said that he did "not see the budget as a limitation on the court."

Regarding the donor group, he said, “As long as they feel comfortable with the way money is being spent and are confident that we are a healthy organization, they are open to all eventualities.”

Rosandhaug says his focus would be on building the court infrastructure so that the judicial officials could get on with the task at hand.

"Substantive work is taken care of by substantive people. My role is to make sure they have the services they need," he said.

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