Another Delay for Justice?

Two stark U.N. reports found severe mismanagement problems in a tribunal set up to try former members of the Khmer Rouge, which murdered over 1 million Cambodians in the late 1970s.

The long overdue trials of surviving Khmer Rouge leaders now appear to be threatened by defects in the United Nations-backed tribunal set up last year in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The court, dubbed the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), suffers from leadership and management problems so severe that the UN should either take much firmer control or consider getting out entirely. That, at least, was the conclusion of two stark assessments—one by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) and the other by two UN experts—that became public in the last two weeks, putting the cash-strapped tribunal under increasing pressure to reform.

The news must be disheartening to those who hoped the Cambodian people might finally see some form of justice. Thirty years after the Khmer Rouge bludgeoned, worked and starved to death about a quarter of Cambodia's population, two of the regime's most notorious leaders are finally in jail. Three more suspects are expected to be arrested soon by the ECCC. And a major fundraising campaign to pay for the courts is scheduled to begin soon.

But it's not yet clear how far donors, who are footing almost the entire bill for the tribunal, will go to stave off the growing concern that this court could devolve into an old-style Cambodian network of nepotism and corruption, abetted by weak international leadership. The ECCC's administration, budget and judiciary are split into Cambodian and UN sides. The court is headed by a Cambodian administrator, and Cambodian judges are in the majority in all chambers.

In their confidential June report obtained by NEWSWEEK, the two U.N. experts—Robin Vincent, the former registrar for the Special Court for Sierra Leone, and Kevin St. Louis, the Chief of Administration for the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia—called the split structure "divisive and unhelpful." They said they could see no good reason why the court had been set up as such "save for possibly a sense that the division was in place to protect the 'sovereignty' of the National Staff side." They cited "considerable frustration" with the court's leadership among international staff, which they feared had so corroded morale that key staffers would continue to leave; several have already quit the court. After more than a year, the UN experts said, renovation work on the main courtroom had not even begun, and they pointed to serious problems with crucial court functions like translation, witness protection and public affairs.

The court recently announced that it's looking to replace its top international administrator, Michelle Lee. The tribunal's U.N. spokesman, Peter Foster, says that Lee's retirement has been long-planned; she turns 60 this summer, at which point she must retire, under U.N. rules.

The ECCC made the second report, an audit of Cambodian human resources practices commissioned by UNDP, public on Tuesday. UNDP, which manages $6.4 million in funds for the Cambodian side of the tribunal, had for months refused to share the written audit results, even with donors and members of its tribunal oversight board. The Cambodian side of the court opted for transparency, bowing to pressure from the imminent fundraising campaign and a series of scathing editorials in The Wall Street Journal, kicked off when Chapman University law professor John Hall got his hands on a draft copy of the tightly-held UNDP audit. In making a lightly edited version of the final audit public, along with its rebuttals, the ECCC said it hoped to "to put an end to uninformed speculation that damages the process of justice."


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