Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Khmer Rouge tribunal interns push for pay

Khmer Rouge tribunal interns push for pay

ECCC interns protested yesterday demanding to get paid for their internships at the United Nations. Photo supplied
ECCC interns protested yesterday demanding to get paid for their internships at the United Nations. Photo supplied

Khmer Rouge tribunal interns push for pay

More than 30 United Nations interns at the Khmer Rouge tribunal staged a short-term “strike” yesterday in response to a call by the Global Intern Coalition for an end to the “exploitative and exclusionary” practice of unpaid internships.

The interns gathered for an hour in the cafeteria of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) to express discontent with their status as unpaid staffers. The UN has a longstanding policy of offering only unremunerated internships, claiming budgetary constraints prohibit it from offering interns monetary compensation.

According to Mark Websted, one of the striking interns, yesterday’s action was meant to call attention to the fact that unpaid work excludes potential interns from low-income backgrounds.

“We’re very fortunate that … we’re able to sustain ourselves [when interning at the ECCC] while other people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds don’t have this opportunity,” Websted said.

He stressed that the strike action was not aimed at any supervisors working at the ECCC but against the “systemic inequality in terms of access and redistribution of resources”.

But according to some The Post spoke to yesterday, interns often carry as much of the workload as full-time employees.

“The court itself was underfunded and unstaffed and interns were used as the beasts of burden,” said Scott Bywater, who worked as an intern coordinator at the court about five years ago.

Meanwhile, one ex-intern, who asked to remain anonymous, noted that interns received little institutional support when they arrive in the country. “We received … a letter to present to immigration to get a free NGO visa, other than that, and a map of the free bus routes to get to the court, we received very little,” the intern said.

“I arranged housing before I arrived via a Facebook group for interns, but many stay at guesthouses until they meet others in the same situation.”

The need for work experience continues to make internships appealing to students and recent graduates working to build their careers. But an unpaid position with the ECCC doesn’t guarantee a job, others noted.

According to Bridget Di Certo, who worked in the co-prosecutor’s office, a court internship is only worth as much as your future employer thinks it is.

“It depends on how much your future employers value the internship experience. Some international organisations value it very highly,” Di Certo said. (Disclosure: Di Certo worked for a time as a Post reporter following her time at the court.)

Speaking yesterday, Victor Koppe, a defence lawyer at the court, expressed his support for the striking interns.

“I think their actions are completely justified,” Koppe said. “Unfortunately, there is nothing I can do about it since it’s UN policy.”

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Education’ a priority traffic-law penalty

    A top National Police official on June 21 neither rejected nor confirmed the authenticity of a leaked audio message, which has gone viral on social media, on a waiver of fines for a number of road traffic-related offences. General Him Yan, deputy National Police chief in

  • Pursat Ford assembly plant opens

    The Kingdom’s first Ford assembly plant was inaugurated on June 16 in Pursat province amid rising demand for brand-new vehicles among Cambodians. The facility is seen as a game changer for the domestic automobile industry, which could bring a wave of investors seeking to cash

  • Volunteer scheme to foster ‘virtuous’ humanitarian spirit

    A senior education official said volunteer work contributes to solidarity and promotes a virtuous humanitarian spirit among the youth and communities. Serei Chumneas, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport, made the comment during the opening of a training programme called “

  • Siem Reap’s $18M zoo said to educate public, help wildlife

    Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium Co Ltd has invested $18 million in a zoo in Siem Reap province, which will be opened in October to educate and promote animal conservation as well as attract national and international tourists. Currently, the Angkor Wildlife and Aquarium is building the

  • $50B infrastructure plan en route

    The government’s upcoming $50 billion,10-year infrastructure master plan will provide tremendous investment opportunities for domestic and foreign entities, transport experts and economists say. Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol revealed the plan to Japanese ambassador to Cambodia Masahiro Mikami on June 15. At

  • Chinese firms unveil preliminary results on metro, monorail for capital

    Minister of Public Works and Transport Sun Chanthol and representatives from China Road and Bridge Corp (CRBC) and its parent company, the state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC), met on June 24 for talks on results of the firms’ preliminary study on a potential metro