Cambodian members of the Khmer Rouge tribunal’s Trial Chamber joined the court’s national administrative staff yesterday in calling for the prompt payment of back salaries, attaching a January 31 deadline to their ultimatum to temporarily quit their positions if they are not paid.
According to court spokesman Neth Pheaktra, the national Trial Chamber staffers – who, along with their administrative colleagues, have not been paid in nearly two months – drew a clear line in the sand as the Cambodian government, which is responsible for paying national salaries under the 2003 agreement that established the court, continued to call on international donors to step in to fill the shortfall.
“In case, [there] is still no information or reliable information [by the morning of January 31] to ensure that we will get paid in due course for both our December salary and in 2013, we will consider boycotting our work or take other measures to support our livelihood,” Pheaktra wrote in an email, quoting the letter, which described the situation as a “worst case scenario”.
Article 15 of the government’s 2003 agreement with the UN states that “Salaries and emoluments of Cambodian judges and other Cambodian personnel shall be defrayed by the Royal Government of Cambodia,” but government representatives maintained yesterday that the agreement’s terms don’t necessarily stipulate that Cambodia is solely accountable for the national payroll.
“We receive contributions from donors and friends of Cambodia. That does not mean that Cambodia alone has to take full responsibility for the national budget,” said Ek Tha, a spokesman for the Council of Ministers’ Press and Quick Reaction Unit. “We are allowed to take money from donors to channel to the staff.”
Tha went on to call on international donors to “not let this court down”.
“A bird cannot fly with one wing,” he said. “The court, in other words, cannot work without the support from the national side of Cambodia.
I’m sure the donors and the international friends of Cambodia, I’m sure they cannot just stand and watch this crisis go on and on.”
“We are at our maximum effort already,” he continued, noting that the government had given $1.8 million to the court for 2013 – a figure larger than the budgets for the Cambodian Supreme Court and Appeals Court combined, according to a PQRU press release issued on Tuesday.
According to Pheaktra, however, the $1.8 million is earmarked for “general operations costs,” such as utilities and medical treatment for the defendants, and cannot be spent on salaries.
Panhavuth Long, a program officer for the Cambodian Justice Initiative, called the crisis a “test for the Cambodian government, if they really care about the tribunal”.
“They can easily make the contribution; there are a lot of tycoons,” he added, noting at the same time that contributions from such tycoons may raise questions of independence. “But the government is at least in the ability to jump in in these [desperate situations].”
To contact the reporter on this story: Stuart White at [email protected]