Global Policy Forum

Row Over Foreign Lawyers


Agence France Presse
November 24, 2006

A growing row over foreign defense counsel is threatening Cambodia's Khmer Rouge tribunal, as the International Bar Association (IBA) said Friday it was forced to abandon key legal training amid a power struggle with Cambodian lawyers.

After weeks of planning, the IBA abruptly pulled its support for a program meant to familiarise Cambodian lawyers -- who are often under-trained and inexperienced -- with international law. It said the move came in response to threats by the Cambodian Bar Association to boycott the program and take "measures" against any members who participate.

"The prohibition by the Cambodian Bar is part of a wider scheme of opposition designed to obstruct the operation of the tribunal," the IBA said in a statement. "In consequence, the IBA has cancelled the programme," it added. The program was to be offered by the IBA and the tribunal's Defence Office, which was established to protect the rights of the accused but has come under fire from Cambodian lawyers who say it violates domestic laws.

The cancellation is the latest development in an apparent attempt by Cambodian lawyers to wrest greater control of the tribunal from the United Nations and foreign counsel. "We are being violated by foreigners," Cambodian Bar president Ky Tech told the English language Cambodia Daily Wednesday.

The escalation in this turf war comes as foreign and Cambodian tribunal judges meet to hammer out the internal regulations that will give shape to one of the decade's most anticipated international trials.

With the fate of the training program -- essential for lawyers wishing to practice before the tribunal -- now in question, the adoption of those rules might not happen Saturday, as expected. As many as 10 former Khmer Rouge leaders could be put in the dock during the joint UN-Cambodian tribunal, legal experts say.

Co-prosecutors are expected to hand their first cases up to investigating judges by the end of the year, with the trial phase of the three-year tribunal set to start in mid-2007. So far only two potential defendants have been arrested for crimes committed during the Khmer Rouge's brutal four-year rule in the late 1970s. But one, military commander Ta Mok, died in July, raising fears that other elderly regime cadres would die before being brought to justice.

As many as two million people died of starvation, overwork and execution between 1975 and 1979 as the communist Khmer Rouge drove Cambodia's entire population onto vast collective farms in their bid to create an agrarian utopia.

More Information on International Justice
More Information on the Special Tribunal for Cambodia
More Information on International Criminal Tribunals and Special Courts


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