Cambodia criticized for failure to fund Khmer Rouge tribunal

Human Rights Watch accuses government in Phnom Penh of 'utter contempt for justice'

A tourist walks past a portrait photo of former Khmer Rouge leader 'Brother Number Two' Nuon Chea.

The U.N. and a leading human rights group criticized Cambodia Thursday for failing to fund its share of the costs for the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal, which has been hit by strikes by Cambodian staff who have been unpaid for months.

Human Rights Watch said the failure to pay employees' salaries is the latest "delaying tactic" by a government led by former Khmer Rouge members.

"The government has demonstrated it has plenty of cash to pay a bloated army and buy elections, making its refusal to put money into the Khmer Rouge tribunal a symbol of its utter contempt for justice in Cambodia," said Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch's Asia director.

Cambodian government spokesmen Phay Siphan and Ek Tha declined to comment and refused to discuss the funding issues facing the tribunal.

The tribunal is tasked with seeking justice for atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s, when an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, disease, forced labor and executions.

Under the agreement with the Cambodian government that established the tribunal, the U.N. pays the salaries of the foreign staff, while it is the Cambodian government’s responsibility to pay Cambodian employees. In reality, international donors have often supplemented Cambodia's inadequate contributions.

The Cambodian section of the court currently faces a $3 million shortfall for its operations, including wages, from June through the end of the year.

"Prime Minister Hun Sen has spent years obstructing the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders, but donors to the court have played along and continued to subsidize a seriously compromised court," Adams said. "Donors should finally call his bluff and withhold future contributions until the Cambodian government pays its agreed share of the costs of holding the Khmer Rouge accountable."

David Scheffer, a U.N Ambassador for the tribunal, said in a statement sent to The Associated Press Thursday that the U.N. has pressed Cambodia "repeatedly to step up to its legal obligation so as to avoid such crises."

Scheffer also urged the court's local staff to remain patient "as we urgently continue with our efforts" to find a resolution.

At least 134 of the court's Cambodian employees, including interpreters and translators, went on strike Monday to demand wages that have not been paid since June.

The court is currently trying two Khmer Rouge leaders, former head of state Khieu Samphan, 82, and chief ideologue Nuon Chea, 87, for crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide and other offenses. Ieng Sary, another defendant, died in March during the trial.

The defendants' advanced age and poor health, as well as budgetary shortfalls, have raised concerns the trial may grind to a halt before a verdict is reached. The court, which began in 2006, so far has convicted only one defendant, Khmer Rouge prison director Kaing Guek Eav, who was sentenced to life imprisonment.

The Associated Press

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