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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Strike redux looms for KR tribunal

Strike redux looms for KR tribunal

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A high level delegation from Germany led by state secretary of the federal Ministry for Economic cooperation and Development met with the senior management of the office of administration. Photograph: Eccc/pool

National staffers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal say they are following through with a promise to resume their strike on Monday in an effort to get new contracts and several months of back pay, according to employees familiar with the plans.

The Office of Administration told national staffers at the hybrid court yesterday that it had not yet secured funds to pay salaries for January, February, March and April.

“It is the first time now we have been officially informed national staff will definitely continue to go without pay and work without contracts unless we volunteer to work for free from April 1,” a staff member committed to the boycott, who spoke on the condition of anonymity said.  

He added that the court will evidently grind to a halt on Monday when key national staffers do not show up at work.

In a sense, the second strike is not a huge surprise. The first walkout began on March 4, when a few dozen interpreters and translators announced over the microphone in open court that they were leaving. At that point, 270 national staffers had not been paid in three months. The no-show, however, lasted only until March 18 when strikers returned to work after promises were made, then kept, that national staff would receive pay cheques
for December.

The solution was temporary. Staffers warned of the strike’s resumption should the status quo remain come April. The difference this time around is the level of support.

“Almost all staff will join in the strike,” said an employee who works in general services, saying he needs to feed his family.

“I work for them, so they [the court] have to pay the money to me,” he said.

Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said by email the boycott could be bigger, because the administration is “facing a very serious financial crisis.”

The Cambodian government is responsible for funding the national side of the hybrid tribunal, but the 2013 budget lacks roughly $7 million. Officials have repeatedly said the government lacks funds for the tribunal and have been pressing foreign donors in recent weeks to make up the shortfall.

Despite the push, however, Pheaktra said that there were no new pledges in the pipeline that he knew about.

With the release of Ieng Thirith on mental health grounds last year, and the termination of proceedings against husband and co-defendant Ieng Sary, who died on March 14, a halt in the court's progress is the last thing victims, advocates and some government officials want to see.

In recent weeks, they have all urged the court to go full steam ahead in Case 002, lest the two remaining defendants, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, in their 80s, see a similar fate to their former comrades.

Trial Chamber judges are expected to issue a ruling today on Chea’s fitness to stand trial and on the scope of the case.

It remains to be seen how a massive walkout could affect the court going forward.

Court officials seemed to acknowledge the uncertainty in a statement released yesterday which said that in the same hearing on fitness and trial scope, judges would announce the date on which the hearing of evidence in Case 002 is expected to resume, “subject to the availability of essential national staff”.

There is one employee who definitely won’t be available. Nol Dara, a transcriber who has worked at the court on the national side since 2008, told the Post he decided to resign from the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia on Tuesday because of its “unsure future”.

Writing about the move in a blog post titled “I finally decide to leave ECCC for good”, he said he had to leave the “sinking” court before it was finally submerged.

“I hope ECCC will bring justice for victims of DK [Democratic Kampuchea] as I had once believed.”

A turbulent month at the tribunal

MARCH 4
Having not been paid for three months, members of the Interpretation and Translation Unit lead the first ever strike at the tribunal.

 MARCH 14
Trial Chamber terminates proceedings against defendant Ieng Sary following his death at the age of 87.

MARCH 18
Strikers temporarily return to work in a compromise deal after court administration doles out salaries for the month of December.

 MARCH 25
Two medical experts testify that 86-year-old defendant Nuon Chea is physically and mentally fit to stand trial.

 MARCH 29
Trial Chamber announces decisions on fitness to stand trial and the scope of Case 002 against Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MOM KUNTHEAR

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