Historic Khmer Rouge tribunal threatened by a lack of money
Luke Hunt in Phnom Penh
A severe funding shortfall has left the historic Khmer Rouge tribunal unable to make this month's payroll, just as senior leaders of the former Cambodian regime are being called to account for alleged crimes against humanity committed more than 30 years ago.
'It's extremely serious,' tribunal spokeswoman Helen Jarvis said. 'The Cambodian staff, including myself, have just received our last pay cheque. The February payroll has been paid but we don't have enough for March, so it's certainly a serious matter, however, we've long believed this court is not going to close down because of a lack of money, and we imagine and we are confident that this crisis will be overcome.'
The funding crisis comes just two weeks after the long-delayed tribunal began its first trials.
Funding is split. Costs for the UN contribution - which includes international judges - are consistently met by member countries. However, the Cambodian half of the tribunal, which is struggling, is funded by government and international donors, and some donors have yet to make good on promised assistance.
Funds left behind in trust by the UN when it ended its 18-month mission in Cambodia in 1993 have also been spent on the tribunal. The Cambodian government has been accused of dragging its heels when meeting its financial obligations.
A revised budget forecast shows the trial of five surviving Khmer Rouge leaders will need an additional US$44.1 million on top of the original US$56.3 million, if it is to last until the end of this year.
Former foreign minister Ieng Sary, his wife and former social affairs minister Ieng Thirith, Brother No2 Nuon Chea, former head of state Khieu Samphan and the head of the S-21 detention centre, Kaing Guek Eav, have all been charged with crimes against humanity relating to the deaths of an estimated 1.7 million people during their 1975-79 rule.
While the evidence against them appears overwhelming, many waiting for justice fear the cash shortage, their ages and ill-health mean they could die before judgment is passed.
The US, Japan, the European Union, Australia and India have all contributed to the tribunal, which is expected to last at least two years.
But diplomatic sources say they will be careful in handing over money after witnessing the spiralling costs of other war crimes tribunals - especially in Rwanda.
The UN set up an international court for crimes committed in Rwanda during the 1994 massacres. The court has been sharply rebuked as inefficient, costing more than US$1 billion. It has completed about 35 cases in hearings being held in Tanzania.
In Cambodia, Ms Jarvis is adamant about the funding required to complete the process and deliver some justice to Pol Pot's victims.
'I must say that this is not the first time we've encountered this kind of situation,' she said. 'Our staff is extremely committed, but I hope the donors are likewise committed and we can go forward.'