Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - UN private audit draws public ire

UN private audit draws public ire

UN private audit draws public ire


The UN's policy not to release internal audit results has unleashed allegations that

the United Nations is burying the truth about corruption at the KRT court.

Helen Jarvis sitting in her offfice at the ECCC. As the plenary session is opening, questions raised by the audit are embarrassing for the good march of the tribunal.

Experts are demanding full disclosure. They say concealing the findings of an internal

audit erodes the credibility of the Cambodian tribunal and the UN as a whole. The

United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), says it is "standard practice"

that such reports are not released to the public.

"The UN's ability to deliver justice and its reputation, not just in Cambodia,

are at stake here," said Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch (HRW).

"The UN will have to decide whether it is possible to participate in the ECCC

without corruption or political interference undermining its ability to deliver impartial

and credible justice. This is the question that made the United Nations, from Kofi

Annan down, so nervous about agreeing to participate in the ECCC."

UNDP and the Cambodian side of the Extraordinary Courts in the Chambers of Cambodia

(ECCC) have received copies of the audit's results. Claiming it is an "internal

document," they have withheld the findings.

"The UNDP audit is still just a draft on which there is ongoing discussion between

the UNDP and the ECCC," said Helen Jarvis, head of the ECCC press office. "It

is not a public document."

Allegations of impropriety in the use of funds pledged to the ECCC and administered

by the UNDP began to surface in the final months of 2006.

An audit was launched, and its two phases were completed by March 30, 2007.

Sources close to the trial claim the audit's conclusions confirm longstanding suspicions:

the ECCC

has not managed to insulate itself from the Kingdom's endemic corruption.

"It was a leap of faith to assume we ever could," said Peter Foster, United

Nations Assistance to the Khmer Rouge Trial (UNARK) spokesperson, on May 11.

According to Adams, there was never any way to safeguard a government-dominated court

from political influence or corruption, which are woven into the very fabric of the

Cambodian court system.

"It would take more than a leap of faith to think this would disappear,"

he said. "It would take a change of government."

The assumption that the ECCC would be immune to systemic corruption stems from a

lack of understanding of Cambodia, said Basil Fernando, head of the Hong Kong-based

Asian Human Rights Comission (AHRC).

The poor planning of events like the ECCC is only exposed when they begin to operate

in the "real world," Fernando said.

"They don't want to look at the reality of the situation as this would challenge

the assumptions on which the entire court is based," he said. "The issue

is not whether they know there is a problem or not, it is whether they want to face

up to that problem or not."

Douglas Gardner, country head of the UNDP, has refused repeated requests for interviews

on the topic.

"In this situation the UNDP would like to be an ostrich with its head stuck

in the sand," said Theary Seng, director of the Center for Social Development

(CSD). "Sometimes, intentional ignorance is bliss."

The UNDP issued two press releases on the audit in May, but has declined to discuss

the audit's findings.

"They are embarrassing questions," said Fernando. "Especially for

all those who would prefer to ignore the reality of the situation and expect a miracle."

The UNDP office has ignored media enquiries, forwarded them to the ECCC press office,

or referred them to UNDP in New York. Such behavior indicates they are embarrassed,

said one source close to the court.

"The money was on their watch. They didn't act until there were so many allegations,

and now they look bad," the source said. "They just want it to go away."

The UNDP may be reluctant to jeopardize its relationship with the Cambodian government

by releasing the audit's findings, said Seng.

"It is baffling that the UNDP believes it could be kept secret," she said.

"Damning or not, officially released or not, the audit's findings will surface

into the public realm sooner or later."

According to HRW's Adams, the UNDP has a poor record in Cambodia of "standing

up to" the government when necessary.

"When confronted with politically complicated situations, it has a track record

of putting good relations with the government above all other considerations,"

he said. "I hope that will not prove to be the case this time."

It would be pointless for the UNDP to obscure evidence of corruption within the ECCC

and press forward with a purely symbolic tribunal, said Fernando.

"What will it be a symbol of?" he asked. "Ignorance? Lack of real

concern? Lack of work? Lack of building a proper cooperation? A symbol of a bluff

is painful. It would be better not to have it."

According to James Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative,

it is still unclear if the UNDP audit examined corruption allegations within the


"So long as the audit's results remain secret, and no other measures are in

evidence to address these questions, the ECCC's most precious resource - public confidence

- is in jeopardy," he told the Post on May 30. "Both UNDP and the ECCC

should agree to the release of the UNDP audit findings."

Because Cambodians are the main stakeholders of the ECCC, they have the right to

know what is happening, said Seng.

"The lack of disclosure further exacerbates the high suspicion and growing distrust

of the Khmer Rouge Trial processes," she said.

"Civil society are completely baffled and frustrated at the lack of disclosure,

and disappointed that the Cambodian public, whose interest should be the primary

concern of the ECCC, is being left in the dark." 

Unless the UN improves cooperation with the Cambodian government they will end up

with a "mockery of a tribunal," said Fernando.

"It is neither to the advantage of the UNDP or the Cambodian government to carry

on with the ECCC as it is now," he said. "But they do not want to address

these very difficult questions."

But with the court's long-delayed draft internal rules set to be approved at a plenary

session starting May 31, it is essential that the UNDP begins to address difficult

questions, said Fernando.

"It's not possible to call this off," he said. "The options are whether

you carry on in this kind of minimum way, or whether you expand the scope more [and

stop] protecting local authorities from change by exclusion. Building boundaries

[around the ECCC] to try and keep up international standards of justice is a delusion,

and one that is playing out now."

Co-Investigating Judge Marcel Lemonde told the Post on May 29 that the judges were

"reasonably confident" the plenary would go well.

The handling of the audit has exposed the serious flaws, and raised new fears.

Some experts are saying that total transparency, even on the UN side, is unlikely.

Cambodia's so-called "model court" is now revealing its practical and theoretical


"The UNDP sometimes seems to forget that it is in Cambodia to help Cambodians

and that its work with the Cambodian government is a means to that end, not the other

way round," said Adams.

"The UNDP should move as quickly as possible to make the results of its investigation

known to the Cambodian people, who are supposed to be the primary beneficiaries of

its work in Cambodia."


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