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Opinion

Don't pave Cambodia's flawed path to justice

The tribunal to try ex-Khmer Rouge leaders needs reform, then funds.

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Some positive but limited changes have taken place: There is now a written personnel manual that formalizes future recruitment procedures, a code of ethics, and an "anticorruption" pledge. International managers are now allowed to participate in evaluations of their Cambodian staff.

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While these may be promising signs, they fail to address the heart of the matter. The auditors' suggestion that the Cambodian staff be fired and new employees hired under careful UN supervision was simply dismissed. The artificially high pay scales remain. The flawed split-tribunal structure is unchanged.

As for the kickback allegations, which go to the crux of the court's credibility, there appears to be no political will at the tribunal or the UN to launch any genuine and thorough investigation. The UN may be reluctant to press this matter, fearing Prime Minister Hun Sen would pull the plug on the tribunal rather than permit an independent and thorough investigation that might implicate individuals within his government.

With the taint of political influence, corruption, and mismanagement continuing to surround the tribunal, why is the US now considering providing direct funding? The answer may be oil. Vast deposits have been discovered off the coast of Cambodia in recent years – perhaps as many as 2 billion barrels and a further 10 trillion cubic feet of gas.

Firms from China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Singapore, Kuwait, Australia, and France are seeking permits to explore and develop Cambodia's energy riches. Beijing has recently provided Cambodia with hundreds of millions of dollars of aid. Washington does not want to be left out, and it is looking to improve diplomatic relations with Cambodia.

Ambassador Williamson has stated that the court must address allegations of mismanagement and corruption before the US will consider funding it. Washington should uphold that promise.

Meanwhile, it should also work aggressively with the UN to pressure the tribunal and the Cambodian government to agree to the reforms the auditors and experts deemed necessary. Only this will ensure that the tribunal can function honestly and efficiently.

John A. Hall is a professor at Chapman University School of Law and director of the Center for Global Trade & Development.

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