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Victim lawyers stung by cuts

Civil party lawyer Hong Kim Suon sits in the court room at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia
Civil party lawyer Hong Kim Suon sits in the court room at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia during the trial hearing in Case 002 in 2012. ECCC

Victim lawyers stung by cuts

Cambodian civil party lawyers representing clients at the Khmer Rouge tribunal have seen their salaries slashed in recent months, as outside funds earmarked for victim representation have dried up, attorneys say.

Lawyers from the Cambodian Defenders Project (CDP) and Legal Aid to Cambodia (LAC), who collectively work with more than 1,800 civil parties, have said that the dramatic cuts have cast uncertainty over their future with the court.

For the past five months, Hong Kim Suon, a CDP civil party lawyer, claims to have been earning less than half of the $1,100 monthly wage he once commanded for his work at the ECCC.

Others at the organisation, such as legal assistants, have been left even worse off.

“It seems their salary is equal to garment workers . . . [They get] only between $100 and $200,” he said.

The drop in wages, he explained, is because of a “shortage of funds from donors”.

The CDP, which provides two lawyers to the tribunal, had relied heavily on funding from German government aid agency GIZ to support its work.

But having awarded CDP $30,000 every year since 2008 as part of its “civil party participation project”, GIZ has cut its support this year to just $15,000.

Marcos Smith, coordinator of GIZ’s Civil Peace Service Program, said the dramatic drop in funding was because of a shift in focus.

Last year, “the discussion was the ECCC will probably stop working soon so we changed our strategy and we said we’re going away from outreach and civil party participation, and we want to work closer with youth and in the field of education; everything always in the context of the Khmer Rouge past”, he said.

GIZ, he added, no longer had an adviser working for the NGO, which is a normal requirement of funding for his program.

But, he said: “Now the court is still running so we recognise that we have to continue to fund the civil party lawyers even though we have no adviser there anymore, which is a big exception.”

Smith said GIZ previously supported the running of the entire NGO, including electricity and fees for a guard and cleaner. “Now we just pay for their real work.”

The CDP lawyers have also seen funding from UN Women cut.

When asked about the cuts, country representative Wenny Kusuma said money was awarded under the UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women.

“This was a multi-year grant and the project-term ended,” she said by email. “UN Women has since encouraged relevant organisations to consider jointly applying again for other funding opportunities.”

LAC, which supplies one full-time and one part-time civil party lawyer to the tribunal, has also fallen victim to the GIZ cuts.

“Funding support from GIZ has been cut by about 40 to 50 [per cent] in the past two years,” said LAC executive director Run Saray.

As well as cuts to salaries, Saray said the lack of funds mean “there is no budget for lawyers to meet with clients or witnesses” if they want to arrange a meeting outside of an official schedule.

He said he is concerned that the drop in funding will affect the quality of lawyers at the ECCC.

“Since lawyer fees are lower, it is possible that lawyers will leave LAC and work for a private law firm. LAC will find it difficult to recruit [a] lawyer who has long experience with ECCC,” he said, adding that if funding keeps decreasing it will be “hard to continue the project”.

Marie Guiraud, international civil party lead co-lawyer at the ECCC, said the “presence of these lawyers is essential as all civil parties need to be represented at least by a Cambodian counsel. It is a requirement from the ECCC Internal Rules.”

She added that a “lack of resources for civil parties’ representation has been a chronic issue since the very inception of the ECCC”.

But Kim Suon of CDP, who is himself a Khmer Rouge survivor, said he will not be deterred by the cuts.

“We will still defend the civil parties because they put their trust in us,” he said.

“This court is important to send a message to all current and future leaders that if they commit crimes against humanity, leave their people facing hunger, starvation and death, [they] will face legal punishment in the future like the Khmer Rouge leaders.”

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