Published: September 1, 2008
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia: A judge for Cambodia’s genocide tribunal urged colleagues on Monday to aggressively investigate corruption allegations, saying such charges undermine the body’s efforts to obtain justice for victims of the Khmer Rouge.
Accusations of graft have been leveled at the U.N.-assisted tribunal twice in the past two years and earlier this year caused donors to temporarily hold back more than US$300,000 for the monthly payroll for 250 Cambodian staff members.
Silvia Cartwright, a judge from New Zealand, called on the court to spare no effort in dealing with any future corruption issues at a planning meeting for the body, which is moving toward convening its first trial.
The tribunal is tasked with seeking justice for the atrocities committed by the communist Khmer Rouge, whose radical policies caused some 1.7 million deaths when the group was in power in 1975-79.
Cartwright, in her speech opening the meeting, described corruption in the ranks as “one of the major issues that has been troubling for all the judges.
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The upcoming trials “are so important for the people of Cambodia (and) must not be tainted by corruption,” she said.
In 2007, allegations arose that Cambodian nationals on the tribunal staff had paid for their jobs. An investigation ended inconclusively, though procedures were changed to safeguard against such corruption. In June of this year, charges of kickbacks surfaced again. Salaries were initially withheld but paid once a probe, which is still under way, began.
Those working in the tribunal’s Cambodian component dismissed the allegations as unsubstantiated. Tribunal spokesman Reach Sambath said that Cambodian staff members are committed to curbing any corrupt acts.
“We do not want to hear such allegations again as they can be quite troubling for the court,” he said Monday.
He said during this week’s meeting, the judges and prosecutors plan to make some amendments to the tribunal’s guiding rules.
At this week’s meeting, judges and prosecutors will make some changes to the tribunal’s rules and discuss “weak and strong points” of the court as it prepares for its first trial, that of Kaing Guek Eav, one of five suspects in custody. Kaing Guek Eav ran the S-21 prison, which was the Khmer Rouge’s largest torture facility.
The trial of the 66-year-old, also known as Duch, had been expected to open in late September.
But there are fears it could be delayed after the prosecutors decided to appeal the recent official order for him to stand trial. They want to have more charges added against Duch, who has already been charged with crimes against humanity and war crimes.
It is not clear how long it will take to rule on the prosecutors’ appeal.