Senior UN official urges donor support for Cambodia war crimes tribunal

Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.
UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras (file photo)
Deputy Secretary-General Jan Eliasson.

Senior UN official urges donor support for Cambodia war crimes tribunal

A senior United Nations official today appealed to the international community to provide funding to the UN-backed tribunal trying Khmer Rouge leaders accused of mass killings in Cambodia, which is experiencing financial difficulties preventing it from completing its work.

“We all agree that there can be no impunity for crimes which tear at the very fabric of our common humanity. But we have to do more than agree – and more than speak out. We have to match our words with actions,” the Deputy Secretary-General, Jan Eliasson, said at the pledging conference in New York for the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).

“Words do not pay the bills. If we do not pay the bills, we will fail to live up to our noble declarations. We will let down the millions of Cambodians who watched their relatives die, who survived atrocities, and who still live with a burning desire to see justice done. We will fail future generations who look to history for proof that justice can triumph over violence.”

The ECCC is a hybrid court established in 2006 to try senior leaders and those most responsible for the crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge regime. It is staffed by a mix of Cambodian and international employees and judges. More than 100,000 people have attended hearings since the trial began, many of them survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime who travelled far to watch the proceedings.

The ECCC is funded on the basis of voluntary contributions. However, in recent years available financing has dropped below the Court’s operating expenditures. For months, the staff worked without pay and in September, unpaid staff went on strike.

“We are aware that donors are experiencing financial constraints,” Mr. Eliasson said. “In crafting the ECCC’s budget, we have held wide-ranging consultations to achieve all possible savings and make it as cost-effective as possible. The budget now before the Principal Donors Group reflects our stream-lined and scaled-back approach.”

Mr. Eliasson stressed that no justice institution, should have to cope with such uncertainties, adding that financially-induced stoppages have a detrimental effect on ongoing judicial proceedings.

The Cambodian Government has pledged to fulfil its obligations under an agreement with the UN, by contributing an additional $1.8 million to cover the costs of the national staff through the end of 2013.

Mr. Eliasson welcomed this contribution, but added that additional financial support should not be a one-time occurrence and should instead be sustained into the next year of the Court’s operation and beyond.

“At the same time, donors should provide consistent and appropriate levels of support in order to sustain the international component of the ECCC,” he said.

“The Secretary-General and I are deeply concerned that a project of this global importance is at risk at failing, for want of the necessary financial support. Such a fateful, indeed humiliating, outcome – unprecedented in international justice – would amount to abdication of some of our most fundamental principles and values.”

Mr. Eliasson called on all Member States to renew their commitment and cooperation to the ECCC and the on-going judicial proceedings.