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Khmer Rouge trial proves justice too expensive for Cambodia

Hundreds of Cambodians working for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) recently learned that they will not…

By Heather Roy , in 2012 Blogs Tribunal Talk: Khmer Rouge Stand Trial , on February 15, 2012 Tags: , , , , , ,

Hundreds of Cambodians working for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) recently learned that they will not receive paycheques until April at the earliest. Some staff members have been working for free since October.

Many Cambodians live with only basic necessities, as evidenced by this picture taken in Siem Reap in early 2010.

The tribunal was established in 2006 after almost a decade of negotiations between the United Nations (UN) and Cambodia’s government. It seeks to achieve justice for the approximately 1.7 million people who perished from starvation, forced labour and torture during the Khmer Rouge regime between 1975 and 1979.

But now the court established to move the country forward has no money to pay its Cambodian employees. Staff were previously paid through international donations, but funds dwindled as the trials dragged on. The UN is only responsible for paying international employees, so Cambodians are forced to wait or quit their jobs. But finding more money in a weakened global economy won’t be easy.

Khmer Rouge members set the country back decades by killing intellectuals and decimating the professional population. Their quest to create an agrarian, peasant society left the country impoverished and uneducated. Some 30 per cent of Cambodians live below the national poverty line, according to World Bank statistics. The ECCC offered steady employment until funds ran out. Consequently, Cambodians likely do not want to quit their jobs.

Khmer Rouge victims, many of whom were children, pictured at S-21. Photo was taken in early 2010.

Cambodians supported the trying of Khmer Rouge leaders because they wanted peace in order to forget their country’s history. However, funding problems have divided the Cambodian and international sides of the court. The UN originally insisted on a mixture of staff to safeguard against potential corruption. Now, the court itself has become a display of inequality.

Cambodia’s retired King Norodom Sihanouk opposed the tribunal during early negotiations, saying, “Its budget would be better spent on alleviating poverty.” Indeed, six years later, the tribunal contributes to Cambodia’s poverty by forcing almost 300 people to work without pay.

The Japanese government donated $2.925 million to the courts in November. But that money was provided to “support the judicial process of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” according to the ECCC’s website. Cambodian workers will not be paid using these funds.

So the court has compromised its reputation over yet another administrative issue. First, judges quit; then evidence was rejected and contested; now, funds are limited. This newest snag not only questions the tribunal’s ability to bring justice to Cambodia; it questions the justness of the tribunal process.