The Khmer Rouge tribunal yesterday announced a new loan from the court’s UN-funded international side to its beleaguered national component that would theoretically end three weeks of strikes over unpaid salaries.
According to court legal communications officer Lars Olsen, the $1.16 million loan will pay national staffers’ back salaries for the months of June, July and August, but only on the strict condition that the Cambodian government agrees to reimburse the tribunal’s international side in full.
“It is important to understand that the UN’s ability to arrange loans to pay national salaries is not limitless. The loans are coming from the international budget for the ECCC, which is itself facing a financial shortfall,” Olsen said in an email. “The only sustainable solution to the lack of funding for the salaries of national staff is for the Royal Government to shoulder its responsibility by meeting its obligation to pay these national salaries.”
Government spokesman Ek Tha declined to comment on the conditions of the loan.
The court’s international side offered the national component a similar “bridging fund” to end an identical strike over unpaid salaries in March. Though the terms of that funding also stipulated that it be paid back, so far the government has made no repayments.
However, tribunal spokesman Neth Pheaktra said in an email yesterday that the Cambodian government “will reimburse this loan when the national side secures its funds for the operations”, but admitted that the loan was not a permanent solution.
“Despite this bridging fund, the national side still lacks around $1.8 million needed to fund its operations from September through the end of this year,” Pheaktra said. “All staff [are] still very concern[ed] of the further financial crisis in the coming month; in consequence, they maybe face … new delayed payment.”
Nonetheless, he added, the court’s Office of Administration had called on striking national staffers to return to their posts today.
One national staffer, who declined to be named, said that court staffers had been willing to put up with the tumultuous funding situation because finding relatively well-paying jobs outside of the tribunal would prove difficult.
Though he would be returning to work today, he said, he was unconvinced that the tribunal had seen the last of its problems.
“Since I have been expecting to be called to return from striking to come to work, and now I have received that call, I am obliged to resume work tomorrow,” the staffer said in an email.
“This does not give me hope that the problem is over, as the stakeholders appear to have taken it for granted all along. The big strike in March robbed the court of its 10 [sitting] days. I hoped that lesson would be learnt but it [wasn’t].”
Program officer Panhavuth Long of the Cambodian Justice Initiative also expressed doubt that the court’s financial problems would be gone for long.
“I would say that it is good news that the staff salaries for June, July and August can be paid, but the funding issue will remain to be a problem,” he said.
“I would say that it is very important that the government do more,” he added. “They have to show whether or not their commitment can be sustained.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY JOE FREEMAN