A global rights watchdog has slammed the Cambodian government for failing to pay national staffers at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, saying Phnom Penh is intentionally withholding funds to hobble the activities of the U.N.-backed war crimes court.
More than 100 of the court’s local employees went on strike this week after not having been paid for months, threatening to set back the trials of former Khmer Rouge head of state Nuon Chea and chief ideologue Khieu Samphan.
The withholding of their pay is part of a “delay tactic” employed by a government still dominated by former Khmer Rouge members, New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a statement Thursday.
The group urged international donors to hold back on future contributions to the tribunal until the Cambodian government pays its share of the costs.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen has spent years obstructing the trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders,” Human Rights Watch’s Asia director Brad Adams said.
“Donors and the U.N. should insist that the Cambodian government stop pretending to be too poor to provide accountability to the millions of victims of the Khmer Rouge,” he said.
He said Hun Sen had never been committed to prosecuting more than a few members of the regime, “apparently to protect members of his party and government who were also in the Khmer Rouge.”
Cambodia pressed 'repeatedly'
Under the agreement with the Cambodian government that established the tribunal—known formally as the Extaordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC)—the U.N. pays the salaries of U.N.-appointed staff, while Cambodia pays the salaries of government-appointed staff.
But international donors have often supplemented inadequate contributions from the Cambodian government since the court was set up in 2006 to try the former leaders of the movement that killed as many as 2 million people between 1975 and 1979.
David Scheffer, a U.N. Ambassador for the tribunal, said Thursday that the U.N. has pressed Cambodia "repeatedly to step up to its legal obligation so as to avoid such crises,” the Associated Press reported.
Out of five Khmer Rouge leaders indicted by the ECCC in 2007, the court has so far completed just one case, sentencing former prison chief Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to life in jail for overseeing the deaths of some 15,000 people.
The regime’s former foreign minister Ieng Sary died in March while on still on trial, prompting calls to speed up proceedings for the remaining two defendants.
Khieu Samphan, 82, and Nuon Chea, 87, are being tried by the court for crimes against humanity, war crimes, genocide, and other offenses.
Last year, the court suspended proceedings against Ieng Thirith, the regime’s social affairs minister and Ieng Sary’s wife, who was deemed unfit for trial after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.