Thursday, 26 February 2009

Watchdog slams UN over KRT

Peter Taksoe-Jensen shakes hands with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An at the Council of Ministers on Monday

The Phnom Penh Post

Written by Georgia Wilkins
Thursday, 26 February 2009

UNLESS the UN reverses the Khmer Rouge tribunal's latest anti-corruption plan, they risk "lowering the bar for all future efforts to try international crimes", international watchdog the Open Society Justice Initiative said Wednesday.

Referring to a new agreement by the two sides of the court to work separately to protect the court against corruption, the New York-based monitoring group said there were no real changes made to the existing system, which had allowed for graft allegations to arise last year.

"Taken together, these provisions do nothing to alter the de facto Cambodian government veto, which has stymied genuine investigations of corruption to date," a press release Wednesday said.

Top UN legal official Peter Taksoe-Jensen met with Deputy Prime Minister Sok An to finalise the new mechanisms Monday. The two sides resolved to set up individual mechanisms that would report back to each other and agree on the type of action to take.

But according to OSJI, the new "parallel" mechanisms mean that staff is restricted to reporting corruption to its own side of the court and does not contain provisions to protect whistleblowers.

"A system where each side handles the complaints of its own staff has

already been tried and shown not to work," James A Goldston, executive director of the Open Society Justice Initiative, is quoted as saying in the statement.

"To be credible going forward, any mechanism must have the confidence of all staff that their complaints will be taken seriously, that whistleblowers will be protected and that effective action will be taken to address valid complaints," he added.

A report by a UN oversight body in August 2008 detailed allegations that the court's Cambodian staff members were paying kickbacks to their bosses. The report was sent directly to the Cambodian government, who have not released results of its review. The UN has also failed to make the report public.

The new mechanisms come after months of diplomatic wrangling over what monitoring system would satisfy both sides. The suggestion of an international, independent monitor by the UN side was turned down by the Cambodian government during talks for a mechanism that better respected national sovereignty.

"The agreement lacks details about the protections afforded to staff who alert authorities to instances of wrongdoing, and contains inadequate
promises of confidentiality," the statement said.

"In addition, it fails to offer provisions for dealing with outstanding allegations of corruption," it added.

Observers of the court say the failure to take action could be the last straw for the court's credibility.

"Allegations of corrupt practices involving the Cambodian side of the court threaten to taint the legal proceedings. This matter must be resolved and cannot be allowed to fester," John Hall, professor at Chapman University School of Law, told the Post via email.

The joint statement smacks of political COMpromise and acquescence

"It is simply unreasonable to expect Cambodian staff to come forward with complaints of wrongdoing if they must file such reports with Ethics Monitors appointed by the Cambodian government or the Cambodian management at the court," he said.

Hall added that the parallel mechanism envisaged in the Joint Statement could "chill" future complaints of wrongdoing.

"That may be convenient for those who want the accusations of corrupt behavior to simply go away. The Joint Statement smacks of political compromise and acquiescence. Hopefully as the details are announced in coming weeks, the new mechanism will not turn out to be as flawed as it appears at first sight."


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