Global Policy Forum

Cambodia Cuts Fees Threatening Khmer Rouge Trial


By Ek Madra

April 28, 2007

The Cambodian Bar Association slashed its levy on foreign lawyers on Saturday, removing the last barrier to the long-delayed trial of Pol Pot's top surviving henchmen for the "Killing Fields" atrocities. The United Nations had balked at the $4,900 fee the CBA wanted to charge foreign defence lawyers, triggering a row that threatened to scuttle the mainly donor-funded, U.N.-backed joint court before it got underway.

"We decided to lower the legal fees to $500 because we want to see foreign lawyers take part in the Khmer Rouge trials to seek justice for the victims," CBA spokesman Nou Tharith said. After nearly a decade of tortuous negotiations, Cambodia and the United Nations agreed the outline of the joint court and donors coughed up $53 million to pay for it. But the U.N. said earlier this month the lawyers' fees were "not in line with accepted practice at the international level" as it would deter lawyers who might want to offer their services free of charge to defendants.

International judges and lawyers, who had pulled out of a full session of the court planned for the end of April, were not available for comment. The CBA has argued that domestic law prohibits foreigners from representing clients in local courts unless they are Bar Association members. "We are very happy to hear about the decision made by the bar association," said Reach Sambath, a spokesman for the joint court, adding judges could now push ahead with a final agreement on the internal court rules.

Phnom Penh and the U.N. agreed to the trials in 2003 and the judges were sworn in last year, but wrangling over the nuts and bolts of the court has delayed any charges being filed. The trial is expected to last three years and getting it underway as soon as possible is key, given the age and health of many of the remaining Khmer Rouge top command. The main defendants are likely to be "Brother Number Two" Nuon Chea, former foreign minister Ieng Sary, former president Khieu Samphan, and Duch, head of the capital's Tuol Sleng interrogation and torture centre.

"Brother Number One" Pol Pot, presumed architect of the ultra-Maoist regime, died in 1998. His one-legged military chief Ta Mok -- dubbed "The Butcher" for his alleged role in mass internal purges -- died last year.

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