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In UN Justice News, Cambodia Timing and Costs But No Audit, Rwanda Run-Around, Rubber Bullet Silence

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN

UNITED NATIONS, July 2 -- In a briefing at the UN about the upcoming Khmer Rouge trials in the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), the UN's Michelle Lee predicted that the prosecution's first submission will be made "in a week or two."

            Ms. Lee also made a pitch for funds for both the Cambodian and UN units supporting the trials. Both are already $4 million short of "subscription." In total, to operate through the end of 2009, the national (Cambodian) component requires an additional $8 million to reach $13.3 million, while the international (UN) component needs $25 million to reach $43 million total.

            The UN's Office of Legal Affairs, often opaque, on Monday provided at least the above-summarized information about the upcoming Khmer Rouge trials. While the straight-forwardness of the presentation may be attributed to the expectation that the press would not be present, it's results that count, and the flow of information.

  But still to be released is the UN Development Program's audit of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal, including of charges that "Cambodian judges pay kickbacks to high-ranking officials in order to sit on the courts." (Click here for that.) There is a history of UNDP not releasing audits, including of its operations in North Korea, click here for that.

    At Monday's briefing, the chief of the UN's Office of Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel whispered to his associates, and then announced that the second half of the meeting was for "interested delegations" only. It does not appear that any audits were released, even after the press was, in essence, ordered out of the room.

   Still, in the decidedly relative world of UN transparency, at least provided were specific numbers of the type still not proffered, at least not to the press, for the tribunal recently established by the UN Security Council for murders in Lebanon.

UN's Nicolas Michel and Michelle Lee in Cambodia

            Speaking of genocide and opacity and tribunals with UN involvement, consider this follow-up question about the Rwanda tribunal, asked at Monday's noon briefing:

Inner City Press: There was a question last week about these Rwanda requests.  There were two separate requests.  One was from an association of genocide survivors, asking that the archives of the Rwanda Court be returned to the Rwandan Government when it is finished.  And there was also a request by the guy profiled in 'Hotel Rwanda,' saying that he has spoken with Ban Ki-moon. There is a big dispute in Rwanda right now about whether he did or not.  Can you...  have either of those communications, were they received by the Secretariat, and what is the Secretariat's response?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the latter, I believe, I think we were asked if a letter was received.  And I think that the answer was that we could not track down any such letter.  The former was from a group of, what was the first letter?

Question:  One was from the Ibuka, the genocide survivors' group.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe we did receive a letter from the first group, and I think there will be a response, but I donít know what it is.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the Rwanda Tribunal has an independent voluntary Trust Fund for victims.  The Tribunal has well-established procedures for any person or group seeking to be recognized as victims with a legitimate claim to the monies of the Fund.  Such persons or group are encouraged to contact the Tribunal directly. As to the letter sent to the Secretary-General by the specific group of victims, the above policy would also apply to them.]

            This answer about claiming funds -- but not about the disposition of the UN Tribunal's archives -- was provided last week to a radio correspondent, and Monday was recycled as a response a related but different question. Nor is the UN clear, even in the face of recommendations from its own special prosecutor, regarding whether UN peacekeepers will continue using rubber bullets. From Monday's noon briefing transcript:

Inner City Press: In the follow-up to the UN peacekeepers in Kosovo, the two deaths by rubber bullets... There is a report today that the UN Special Prosecutor Robert Dean is recommending that the UN not use rubber bullets any more.  I don't know if that is limited to Kosovo.  Is it the UNís intention to continue to use rubber bullets?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I saw the press report, but I don't have anything directly.  So, let me find out for you afterwards.

            Twelve hours after the briefing, no statement has been made about the continuing use of rubber bullets by UN peacekeepers -- in the Kosovo case, rubber bullets that were thirteen years out of date, and hard hardened. What legal responsibility did the UN system assign to those who fired, or installed, the deadly projectiles? None. The peacekeepers went back to Romania and nothing has been done.

     Ah, UN justice...

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540