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UN official set for visit to KR tribunal

Tribunal trouble Cambodian reaction

Chea Voleak, 26, fourth-year student, from Phnom Penh
“From my point of view, 70 to 80 per cent of the population are already aware of the Khmer Rouge regime, so I think it would be okay to stop the KRT.  I’m not surprised by the judge’s resignation, as this is the second time it’s happened.

Kim Neangpov, 51, vendor, from Prey Veng province

I want the Khmer Rouge tribunal to continue until the end to find out right and wrong and for the victims to get justice. My right leg was disabled after a landslide fell on me when I was carrying soil during the Pol Pot regime.

San Savy, 43, security guard, from Takeo province

I think that the trials at the Khmer Rouge tribunal should be ended because they have taken a long time and cost a great deal of money. Please take the money to help the flood victims in Cambodia instead.

Chen Vuthy, 28, bookseller, from Battambang province

I do not know a lot about the Khmer Rouge tribunal, but I think that the proceedings are very important for all kinds of Cambodian people, particularly the victims. I want the KRT to continue its activities so that justice is rendered to the victims.

A high-ranking United Nations legal counsel is due at the Khmer Rouge tribunal this week to add-ress ongoing concerns about government interference in the court’s work.

The visit by UN under-secretary general for legal affairs Patricia O’Brien follows last week’s resignation of German Co-Invesigating Judge Siegfried Blunk, who cited perceptions of political interference at the court as the impetus for his resignation.

“In addition to concerns regarding the issue of government interference, there have also been concerns raised with respect to other aspects of the court’s work, which will be addressed during the visit,” UN spokesman Martin Nes-irky said in a statement.

Details of  the “other aspects” of the tribunal’s work alluded to in the statement were not available yesterday.

“The program for the under-secretary general’s visit has not been confirmed yet,” tribunal legal affairs spokesman Lars Olsen said, adding that the visit was being coordinated by UN headquarters. Other staffers at the tribunal contacted yesterday were unaware of the details of O’Brien’s visit beyond what was released in the statement.

Rights groups have been calling for the UN to take a stronger stand on allegations of political interference at the tribunal since its inception.

Following Judge Blunk’s resignation, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific director Sam Zarifi said it was “vital that the UN acts to safeguard the tribunal’s future”.

The visit appeared to be a sign the UN was engaging more with the court, Clair Duffy, tribunal monitor for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said yesterday.  “This is a sign, but it is not enough. We need to see results. The public need to know how the tribunal is operating,” Duffy said.

The UN has repeatedly stressed that the tribunal must be able to do its work without outside interference and it has previously remained hands-off in response to consistent allegations of political interference and calls for an independent investigation of the tribunal.

In addition to concerns about political interference, funding remains a pressing issue for the court.

“We can see already how budget restrictions are affecting cases 003 and 004,”  Duffy said. “There has been absolutely no budget for victim outreach in cases 003 and 004.”

Tribunal spokesman Lars Olsen told the Post no donors had pledged financial support for the tribunal in 2012.

The court’s budget was under preparation and would be finalised by November or December, when donors would “probably” pledge support.

The UN described 2011 as the “peak pain threshold” for donor funding, according to US embassy cables dated January, 2010 and published by anti-secrecy organisation WikiLeaks this year.

On Friday, the US pledged US$1.65 million to the tribunal as the first of three instalments projected to total $5 million, but it was unclear yesterday whether any of those instalments would be made in 2012.

Referring to the tribunal’s second case, US ambassador-at-large for war crimes issues Stephen Rapp said: “Given the gravity of the alleged crimes and the level of defendants, this is now the most important trial in the world.”

US embassy spokesman Sean MacIntosh could not be reached for comment.

The tribunal’s budget for 2011 was $43.3 million, with 21 countries pledging financial aid for the international component of the tribunal.

According to a news release from the US State Department, the US contributed almost $2 million to the tribunal in 2008 and $5 million in both 2010 and 2011.

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