New tribunal 'counsellor' to field corruption complaints
THE government and the UN announced on Wednesday an agreement to appoint an independent official to field corruption complaints at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, although a government spokesman said he could not provide details on how the so-called "independent counsellor" might go about resolving them.
A joint statement dated Tuesday said Deputy Prime Minister Sok An and Peter Taksoe-Jensen, the UN's assistant secretary general for legal affairs, reached the agreement after "detailed consultations" with donors.
The role of independent counsellor will be filled by Uth Chhorn, the current chairman of the National Audit Authority. Uth Chhorn declined to comment Wednesday evening, saying he would be in Thailand until early next week.
According to the joint statement, the agreement "represents a further step to help strengthen the human resources management in the entire [tribunal] administration, including anti-corruption measures, to ensure the requirements of due process of law".
The agreement comes more than two years after allegations first surfaced that court staffers had to kick back a percentage of their salaries to top tribunal officials. A fresh round of allegations in July prompted the UN to launch a graft review, the results of which have not been released.
Talks in April between UN and government officials failed to resolve the issue in part because the UN wanted Cambodian staffers to be able to approach international ethics monitors to report corruption complaints.
Donors have frozen funding to the Cambodian side of the court in response to the allegations, pushing it to near bankruptcy. A UN Development Programme spokesman said there had been no decision to unfreeze funds as of Wednesday.
The establishment of an independent counsellor was designed to ensure "full protection of staff on both sides of the [tribunal] against any possible retaliation for good-faith reporting of wrongdoing", according to the joint statement.
"In this context, the Independent Counsellor will be available to all staff to bring forward any concerns confidentially, and will be empowered to address such concerns," the statement reads.
At a press conference on Wednesday, however, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said he could not comment on how Uth Chhorn would be "empowered" to resolve any complaints.
He told the Post Wednesday evening that he did not know whether Uth Chhorn would be able to deal with past complaints, or whether his mandate would only cover complaints going forward.
Phay Siphan also said he did not know when Uth Chhorn would begin work in his new role.
Court spokesperson Reach Sambath said Wednesday that tribunal officials would be "ready to welcome the independent counsellor at any time", adding that they believe the position will provide an effective mechanism for resolving corruption allegations.
THE INDEPENDENT COUNSELLOR SHOULD HAVE ENOUGH AUTHORITY...
But others said the effectiveness of the independent counsellor was an open question.
Long Panhavuth, a court monitor for the Cambodia Justice Initiative, said Wednesday that he viewed the agreement as positive "in general", though he said he was not convinced Uth Chhorn would be given sufficient authority to "improve the situation".
"The independent counsellor should have enough authority to remedy the reports of wrongdoing if it is warranted," he said.
Andrew Ianuzzi, a legal consultant for the defence team of former Khmer Rouge leader Nuon Chea, said he was concerned the position would amount to a "cosmetic" solution to the corruption issue.
He added: "Taking a Cambodian official and placing him in an independent office - it's unclear to me how that really addresses the concerns that a lot of the Cambodian staffers would have reporting to a Cambodian official."