Cambodian War Tribunal Strikers Return to Work

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cambodia-eccc-exterior-june-2012.jpg The ECCC courtroom building in Phnom Penh, June 14, 2012.

National staffers at a U.N.-backed war tribunal in Cambodia called an end to a strike on Monday that had suspended the trial of high-ranking members of the former Khmer Rouge regime, a court spokesman said.

The agreement came a week after the death of the movement’s co-founder, 87-year-old Ieng Sary, which prompted calls from rights groups and the U.N. to speed up proceedings for the remaining two Khmer Rouge defendants, both of whom are in their 80s.

Court spokesman Neth Pheaktra said that around 20 Cambodian translators and interpreters who had walked out of the Extraordinary Chambers of the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), as the tribunal is formally known, on March 4 agreed Monday to return to work after being guaranteed back pay for work in December.

“On March 18, those who were on strike, including those in the translator and interpreter units of the national party had returned to work,” he said.

“But they put the condition to the court’s administration that if their contract is not renewed by March 31, they will strike again on April 1.”

However, Neth Pheaktra said that the court administration can only extend the contracts of the national staffers if the ECCC receives the funding from donors.

“So far, we have yet to receive any promises from donor countries for funding, so the national [staff] has no funds for 2013 operations,” he said.

“We might face a staff boycott again in early April if we do not receive funding.”

Some 270 Cambodian employees at the ECCC, including judges and prosecutors, have received no pay since November.

The court plans to pay them using funds pledged by the European Union last year, whose transfer had been delayed because of a “technical problem.”

The Cambodian side of the tribunal urgently needs more than U.S. $7 million to cover its costs for 2013 and is looking to its top donors, including the EU, Australia, France, Germany, and Britain, for the funding to do so.

Funding shortage

The ECCC has faced frequent funding shortages and allegations of corruption since it was established in 2006 to try the former leaders of the Khmer Rouge movement that killed as many as 2 million people between 1975-1979 in its bid to establish an agrarian utopia.

So far, the court has only tried and convicted Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, to life in prison for crimes against humanity committed as the warden of the notorious Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh.

Last week, former Khmer Rouge foreign minister Ieng Sary died after being hospitalized since March 4—just before an assessment was to have been made of his fitness to stand trial by local and international medical experts scheduled for later this month.

A court document issued later said that Ieng Sary's death "terminated all criminal and civil cases" against him, but that charges against two other senior Khmer Rouge figures, Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan, will not be affected.

Ieng Sary was the oldest of the trio on trial, and—along with "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, 86, and former head of state Khieu Samphan, 81—had denied charges leveled against him of war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity.

The court plans to discuss Nuon Chea's fitness to stand trial on March 25.

Ieng Sary's wife Ieng Thirith, the regime's former social affairs minister, was last year deemed unfit for trial after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease.

Urgency needed

Civil parties in the ECCC’s second case expressed “deep regret” last week that Ieng Sary died without providing an account of his role during the Khmer Rouge era and without finally being held accountable for his actions, highlighting “more concerns about the risk of [the] ECCC’s inability to provide justice for the victims.”

“We are waiting for the result of the trial proceedings regarding the prosecution of crimes of genocide and other serious crimes committed to which the [civil parties], our relatives and other victims have fallen victims and pray that those crimes would not happen again,” the group of 150 civil parties said in a statement.

The group urged donors, the U.N. and the Cambodian government to collaborate and support the ECCC in order to ensure the hearings can continue, and called on the ECCC to “speed up its judicial process” because of the advanced age and illnesses of the defendants.

The former foreign minister’s death also prompted the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), a coalition of 21 nongovernmental groups, to lament the “loss of a witness” which would “have a negative impact on the efforts to seek justice and closure for many civil parties, victims and ordinary Cambodians who have been personally participating in the ECCC process in their demand for justice against the accused.”

CHRAC called on the ECCC and its stakeholders, particularly the Cambodian government and the United Nations, to "fulfill their obligation immediately and the effort and mission to seek justice should not fail due to the unnecessary political, financial, and procedural obstacles," lest the other elderly accused die in the middle of proceedings.

Reported by Yanny Hin and Maly Leng for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.


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