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What is key at the KRT?

Dear Editor,

Genuine corruption is intolerable, but a number of questions about the current public discussion of so-called kickbacks allegedly paid by some Cambodian court staff to their superiors need to be asked.

First, contrary to expectations in some quarters that a hybrid trial would not be practicable, the legal processes so far conducted by the Court have been entirely proper and, perhaps, exemplary. The charging of five former leaders of the Khmer Rouge has been based on careful investigation, prosecution of these key defendants is due to begin.

This, I believe, is the main issue, and understanding the historic importance of this process requires of us all a sense of proper proportion. Why, then, at this critical time, are some UN officials and other not-so-independent interests from outside the tribunal expending their utmost energies in trying to discredit the Cambodian side of the Court?

John Hall has threatened [in various Wall Street Journal editorials] that if the Cambodian Government fails the test of relenting to the UN in its allegations about kickbacks, the tribunal is likely to be "fatally" damaged, that is terminated.

Dealing with the allegations is, apparently, one of the tasks of the new UN Special Expert, David Tolbert, appointed to advise the UN Secretary General. I understand that Mr Tolbert has no authority over the Cambodian side of the Court and no mandate from the Cambodian government. I simply ask in passing to what extent a unilateral UN initiative, without the agreement of the Cambodian side, respects either the signed KRT agreement or Cambodian sovereignty?

The allegations have not yet been investigated in any appropriate way. But summary judgment about the possible continuation of the Court has already been made by John Hall and others, and in response some donors to the Court have suspended their support.

What if the allegations were true? The allegations refer to the payment by lower level staff of a proportion of their salary to their superiors in exchange for securing their jobs at the Court. However, there appears to be no allegations at all that such practices have been directed at perverting the legal processes of the trial. If the allegations are to be dealt with appropriately, it is imperative that the proper investigation (yet to occur) in no way inhibits the process of trying the former leaders of what is often described as a genocidal regime.

Who gains from this persistent effort to discredit the Cambodian side of the Court? There are people inside and outside the UN system who have long opposed the concept of a hybrid court and continue to do so now.

The discussion about a hybrid court was previously resolved through a signed agreement between the UN side and the Cambodian Government to establish the current ECCC. It is now incumbent upon all parties to act with the utmost good faith and propriety and to allow the trial of Pol Pot's primary associates to proceed without further obstruction.

Peter Annear

Phnom Penh

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