Friday, December 16, 2005

Lack of funds must not block path of justice

How the Cambodian government and Asean can help break the logjam over the Khmer Rouge Tribunal


Phnom Penh _ The United Nations will begin to set up its office in Phnom Penh in February 2006, in preparation for the three-year tribunal of the senior leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime formally known as Democratic Kampuchea. A judicial institution (the Extraordinary Chambers, or EC) will soon be formed to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by members of the ousted regime.

The Cambodian people have waited over 25 years to see justice done: under the Khmer Rouge, our country lost between a quarter and a third of its population _ the largest death toll, in percentage terms, of all the genocides in modern history.

Since 1979, not a single credible trial of the regime's leaders has been held.

Some of the Khmer Rouge leaders have died. Brother Number One, Pol Pot, died in the jungle in 1998, and Central Committee member Ke Pauk died in his sleep in 2002.

Only two former cadres are languishing in jail.

One is Duch (age 59), the former head of the notorious Tuol Sleng Prison (S-21), where an estimated 14,000 enemies of the state died and only about 12 inmates survived.

The other is Southwest Zone commander and Central Committee member Ta Mok (age 78), who was jailed when he refused to join Prime Minister Hun Sen's government in the early 1990s.

Both Duch and Ta Mok have now been charged with war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed during the rule of Democratic Kampuchea. The regime's remaining leaders (such as Ieng Sary, the former Khmer Rouge foreign minister) have enjoyed lives of relative ease, but are ageing rapidly. Most are now in their 70's.

Many now wonder whether the Cambodian people must continue to wait to see justice done because the Royal Government of Cambodia (RGC) cannot or will not meet its financial obligations for the tribunal.

If it does not, will the UN try to make up the shortfall or will it withdraw from the process? It is too early to know the answer, but before the deal is done, a number of solutions can be explored.

In 2003, the RGC and the UN agreed to share legal and financial responsibility for the EC trials. The international community has raised enough money to cover the UN's share for at least the first year of the tribunal. Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Commission, France, Germany, India, Japan, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Republic of Korea, Sweden, and the United Kingdom have made contributions.

The RCG agreed to provide $13 million in cash and services as its contribution.

The government never indicated that money was a problem until last summer, when its representatives said the RGC could afford to contribute only $1.5 million, and that it was seeking donors' help in funding its portion of the costs. The response of the international community has not been heartening: the only country that has helped so far is India, which donated $1 million in October 2005.

On Dec 9, the UN appealed to donors around the world and Japan in particular, to help the government cover its $10.5 million shortfall. And the government has also stated that it will accept donations from wealthy individuals and from the private sector, both in the country and abroad.

These statements lead to more questions than they answer. How will the money be raised? Will the process be transparent? Should the government itself pay more than $1.5 million? And should the RGC officially approach its neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations for funds?

Steps the Royal Government of Cambodia Can Take

To date, the government has spurned Japan's offer to help cover its share of the budget. Although no official reason has been given for its refusal, perhaps the government is afraid that Japan will try to unduly influence, or even monopolise, the EC process.

This would be difficult, given the oversight by the international community as represented by the UN. Japan is willing to help and the government should accept its offer so Cambodia can move on and see the Extraordinary Chambers begin their work.

If the government truly wants Cambodians to donate funds, making appeals through the press is not enough. It should instead make a sincere and formal request and disseminate it widely, both within the country and abroad. Many impoverished victims of the Khmer Rouge want to make small donations, but few have access to newspapers and would not know how they might contribute. Allowing them to support the tribunal gives them a stake in their justice system.

But in accepting contributions, the government also takes on an obligation to ensure a transparent process. People must know where their money is going and what it will fund. The government should be prepared to have the fund's use audited and to publish the audit report.

This will help the government, too, because if people have their goodwill reciprocated, they will also have confidence in their elected officials.

The government should make another good-faith effort to locate funding from its own budgetary resources for the tribunal.

The RCG has a contractual obligation with the UN to ante up its share of funding for the EC trials; if it does not, it will violate its contract with the UN. This would give the UN the right to stop providing further assistance.

After nearly 10 years at the negotiating table, the government cannot claim that it did not know what its share would be. $13 million is a considerable sum for a poor country, but not insurmountable in light of its annual budget and the intangible returns it could realise.

UN Deputy Coordinator Michelle Lee said in a news conference in Phnom Penh on Dec 13, that the UN is looking into whether the approximately $6.9 million left in a trust fund for the Cambodian elections in the early 1990s could be used to help cover the shortfall.

She cautioned, however, that the countries that gave the money _ Japan, Denmark and Australia, for example _ would have to agree to use this, and there are no guarantees that they would do so.

Contributing more from its own resources would have a number of benefits for the government.

It would help dispel the nagging impression that the RGC is trying to stall the tribunal, and it would give Cambodia real ownership in the tribunal in the eyes of people around the world.

Increased government funding would also demonstrate the RGC's true commitment to justice, which might encourage more countries to help Cambodia.

Many nations have expressed concern that their contributions might be wasted because Cambodia's judicial system is seriously flawed. To alleviate such concerns, donors might consider contributing on a year-by-year basis. They need not contribute the full amount up front and could merely agree to release future instalments, provided the proceedings prove to be fair and transparent.

A Role for Asean

Some Asian governments still view human rights as largely a Western issue. Over the past few decades, however, many Asians have demonstrated their belief that these rights are universal and that due process and the rule of law are critical elements of modern societies.

As Asian countries _ and those from Asean in particular _ play an increasingly important role in global politics, their conduct should reflect the changes that have been taking place in Asia.

As yet no Asean member state has made a financial contribution to the Extraordinary Chambers. But there are other ways to support Cambodia's quest for justice. They include:

Technical assistance. Countries like Singapore, for example, have highly trained technicians who could help identify and exhume the over 19,000 mass graves that are spread throughout Cambodia. Compared to bringing in Western experts, Singapore could provide efficient and cost-effective expertise to the EC that would yield critical forensic evidence.

Documentation. Asean states could send Cambodia relevant official documents, photographs and other materials related to Democratic Kampuchea, which might serve as evidence during the proceedings and could help Cambodians to better understand their history.

Counselling. At present, Cambodia has only 12 trained psychiatrists, while about a third of the survivors of Democratic Kampuchea _ some two million people _ still suffer from what is called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. The Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation has found that simple treatments, such as breathing exercises or sleeping medication, can go a long way toward helping those who are experiencing anger, insomnia and other debilitating symptoms of PTSD. Because they have an innate understanding of the Asian psyche, counsellors from Asean could be of invaluable assistance to the Cambodian community.

Hardware. At least some portion of Cambodia's contribution to the tribunal can be in kind. Donations of computers for administrative staff or for university history and political science classes would be very valuable.

Transportation. Travel can be a time-consuming and expensive undertaking for most Cambodians. For those who would want to travel to Phnom Penh to attend part of the proceedings, the costs can be prohibitive. Thus, the donation of large vans or small buses would meet a significant need.

Volunteers. The Documentation Centre of Cambodia works with some 200 Cambodian student volunteers who will go door to door to distribute information and help people learn what to expect from the trials. This will help citizens to gain a clearer understanding of the trials and assist in building a future core of citizens who are involved in their communities. The Cambodian students would benefit from their association with students from throughout Asean, who will help broaden their knowledge of regional history and politics, and learn different approaches to problem solving.

Radios. While this does not seem like a very important donation, it is critical. In a country where many people earn no more than a dollar a day, few have access to newspapers or television. Radio is the main medium Cambodians use for learning. Thus, donations of new or used radios would be invaluable in helping them stay abreast of developments in the tribunal.

Youk Chhang is Director, Documentation Centre of Cambodia. Email:


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