The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia building on the outskirts of Phnom Penh is the workplace for the international and Cambodian staff. Cambodian staff hiring has been criticized in a UNDP audit report.
Faced with mounting pressure, uncontrollable leaks and a growing PR nightmare, the
UNDP and the war crimes tribunal released a series of critical audit reports this
week which portray the Cambodian side of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts
of Cambodia as an administrative failure.
The three reports didn't address the court's judicial activities.
With two top Khmer Rouge leaders detained and charged since July, the judicial side
of the court has been making major progress.
But the combined weight of the three reports dating back as far as January had many
people asking if the administrative side of the court can't operate transparently,
can the legal side be expected to.
Even Peter Foster, the United Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trial (UNAKRT)
spokesman, acknowledged: "The efficiency and effectiveness of the administration
is obviously directly related to the efficiency and effectiveness of the judicial
"People keep asking me why we subjected ourselves to this at this point,"
said Helen Jarvis, head of the press office of the ECCC.
"Although it is a risk to wash one's dirty linen in public, in the long run,
we think it will be better for the court," she said.
The first audit - in January - lashed out at the entire hiring procedure of the court
and recommended that "taking into account the serious lapses in the recruitment
process to-date, all the recruitments of staff made by ECCC to-date should be nullified
and a new recruitment exercise launched."
But the third report, an August human resources report, called that recommendation
"draconian and unrealistic" and said it would "obviously be extremely
harmful to the interests of the ECCC as an institution, depriving it of its staff
just as it begins its judicial activities."
- The key findings of the January audit of the ECCC's human resource management
- Monitoring and oversight by the project board was ineffective
- Salary scales for Cambodian ECCC staff were too high
- Staff were hired without meeting the minimum qualifications required for posts
- There were weaknesses in performance evaluation process
- There was an unjustified increase in staffing level in 2007 budget
The disclosure of the documents was precipitated by a spate of critical articles
in the international press, which was getting the documents leaked to them outside
Jarvis said the problem was "people who wanted to use the UNDP audit's findings
selectively had access to the document, but people who wanted to get an overall view
The public release of the audits followed an editorial in the Wall Street Journal
by John Hall, an associate professor of law and director of the Centre for Global
Trade and Development at the Chapman University School of Law in California, titled
"Khmer Rouge Tribunal Could Turn into another UN Scandal."
"The tribunal is in serious trouble, and to think otherwise would be delusional,"
Hall said. "But the problems are not necessarily fatal so long as addressed
aggressively, honestly and decisively," he said in an email.
"The tribunal needs aggressive life-saving surgery, not merely a band-aid,"
he said. "But the Cambodians are not solely to blame for what has unfolded.
The diplomatic community and the U.N. have turned a blind eye to the all-too-obvious
corruption and managerial catastrophe at the tribunal...It is time for the international
community to show determination and integrity rather than political expediency. Without
such bold leadership, the tribunal is facing catastrophic failure."
Jarvis complained that when Hall visited Cambodia earlier this year, he approached
the court in a "highly unethical" way. "He came as an academic expert
in international law and didn't request any interviews on the issues he decided to
go public on," she said. The diplomat community in Cambodia watching the tribunal
expressed no great concerns over the audits.
The ECCC "has made solid progress in implementing the recommendations of recent
reviews," said an Australian Embassy spokesperson.
Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said that while local diplomats
tend to think the kind of errors uncovered in the UNDP audit and UN expert assessment
are just "normal" for Cambodia, diplomats outside Cambodia are more concerned
because they have to justify the expenditure of taxpayers money. The tribunal has
a budget of $56.3 million, much of it from foreign donors and the UN.
"I actually had an ambassador tell me in June that, 'this is just the way things
are done in Cambodia. Every government department charges kickbacks, so this is not
a big deal,'" Adams told the Post via email on October 4. "It is this level
of cynicism that has infected the lack of standards on all levels from the beginning."
Foster, said the ECCC has taken steps to improve recruitment procedures for national
staff to ensure transparency and effectiveness. They have introduced a new personnel
manual and a code of conduct which has a new rule that prohibits "ECCC staff
from receiving or soliciting payments other than salaries for the performance of
"It looks like damage control is in full swing," Hall told the Post.
Adams said the rule was unnecessary because bribes are already prohibited by Cambodian
law and UN procedure. "This new statement adds nothing." He said the introduction
of this new rule is tacit acknowledgement of the validity of kickback allegations
made in January 2007 - that Cambodian staffers had to pay a portion of their salary
to the official who got them hired.
Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association in London, said
in a telephone interview that although the audit reports place another question mark
over the overall effectiveness of the court, he didn't think the reports would hurt
the judicial process.
"I don't think we are in a situation now where you could look at the audits'
findings where they currently stand and have the defense use them as a means of acquittal,"
"But perception is important, and if the public, especially the Cambodian public,
think the court is simply a political pawn and that the focus is not on justice but
politics then this is not a positive step."
Ellis also said the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia had been seriously
affected by kickback-style problems. In the early days of the ICTY, the issue of
"fee splitting" arose - where a defendant was hiring a lawyer who would
then pay a portion of the fees they received from the tribunal back to the defendant's
"That is an example of behavior that would really undermine the credibility
of the tribunal," said Ellis. "But there is no suggestion that that is
what is happening here."
Jarvis said important procedural things like the personnel manual should have been
prepared before the court started work, but there wasn't time. The manual has been
underway since last year, she said.
"We didn't have a year to do procedures, we were meant to be operational. We
had to just jump in and we recruited the first two or three rounds of people before
we had procedures in place. I think it is fair to say that the Cambodian government
did not get any assistance from the UNDP or the UN side of the court on all these
management issues, we just got an audit which was not necessarily the most productive
way of dealing with it."