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Donors still backing Khmer Rouge tribunal

Meas Muth, former Khmer Rouge navy chief and war crimes suspect, smokes a cigarette at his house in Battambang in 2015.
Meas Muth, former Khmer Rouge navy chief and war crimes suspect, smokes a cigarette at his house in Battambang in 2015. Vireak Mai

Donors still backing Khmer Rouge tribunal

In the wake of revelations that controversial Khmer Rouge tribunal cases could be closed as soon as the end of June, effectively bringing an end to the process of accounting for atrocities, foreign donors have reaffirmed their continued support and hopes for the court’s success.

Last week The Post revealed a confidential document in which investigating judges proposed a permanent “stay of proceedings” on Case 003, against alleged former Naval Commander Meas Muth, as well as on Case 004 against Yim Tith and Case 004/02 against Ao An.

“Lack of funding” was the “sole reason” for the proposed halt to proceedings, according to the investigating judges. But one court observer called that a “saving face excuse” for the thinly veiled influence of the Cambodian government, which has indicated the process of investigating Khmer Rouge crimes has gone on long enough.

The court is largely funded by international donors, with Japan, the US and Australia making the biggest contributions. Nearly $300 million has been spent since proceedings started in 2006 at the complex hybrid court, which blends Cambodian and a mix of international judicial systems.

In diplomatic responses, donors declined to comment explicitly on the immediate fates of the remaining cases but urged the court to “move forward”, “continue” and “succeed”. It seems likely that how success is defined will be the key to closing a process the Cambodian government no longer supports.

Naoaki Kamoshida, counsellor at the Embassy of Japan, which has given the biggest donation at $85 million, said his government “attaches importance to the Khmer Rouge tribunal” because it brings justice to victims and strengthens the rule of law in Cambodia.

“[I]n light of the aging of the accused and the victims more than 35 years after the collapse of Khmer Rouge, Japan encourages the tribunal to accelerate the judicial process,” Kamoshida said in an email.

David Josar, deputy spokesman at the US Embassy, said America is “a strong supporter” of the tribunal. It has donated $30 million. “We continue to be a major donor to the international side of the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia] and are hopeful the tribunal will continue to move forward with its important work,” he said.

A spokesperson from the Australian government – which has donated more than $27 million – said a further “multiyear funding commitment” of A$6.5 million (US$4.8 million) had been made until the end of 2018 to help “improve the financial stability” of the tribunal.

“We have a strong interest in seeing the tribunal succeed . . . The commitment of all stakeholders, including the Royal Government of Cambodia, to financing the ECCC is critical to ensuring the tribunal continues to deliver justice for the Cambodian people,” the Australian spokesman said.

Both the US and Australia have a vested interest in Case 003 against Muth going ahead, due to his alleged role in the death of American sailors and Australian yachtsmen.

George Edgar, ambassador to the European Union, said it too had been a “strong supporter” and possible future funding was under consideration.

Bin Chhin, the head of the Khmer Rouge tribunal taskforce, and Keo Remy, head of the government’s human rights committee, could not be reached for comment.

The investigating judges last week insisted the document that suggested a permanent stay of proceedings was confidential because it was “part of the investigation stage” and was a “highly sensitive” matter.

Court observer Anne Heindel echoed reserve Trial Judge Martin Karopkin in questioning whether it should be confidential, as funding was an administrative issue, not an investigative one. “I don’t see how it could be defined as an investigative action since it concerns court funding for investigations overall, not evidence gathering related to ‘ascertaining the truth’ in a particular case,” she said.

“Funding problems are a political issue for the [investigating judges] to raise with the Office of Administration.”

The tribunal has convicted and given life sentences to former S-21 prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, former Brother Number Two Nuon Chea, and former Head of State Khieu Samphan.

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