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Fee dispute may delay start of Khmer Rouge trials at UN-aided Cambodian court

Fee dispute may delay start of Khmer Rouge trials at UN-aided Cambodian court

The United Nations-assisted Cambodian court may not be able to proceed with the long-awaited trials of former Khmer Rouge leaders, accused of mass killings and other horrific crimes during the late 1970s, until a dispute is resolved over proposed registration fees for foreign lawyers, the court’s review committee said today.

In a statement issued after a 10-day session in the capital Phnom Penh, the review committee of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), which is comprised of national and international judges, said all remaining disagreements over the internal court rules had been hammered out.

But the decision of Cambodia’s Bar Association (BAKC) to impose fees on the participation of foreign lawyers “is unacceptable to the international judges, who consider that it severely limits the rights of accused and victims to select counsel of their choice,” according to today’s statement.

The international judges consider this dispute “places an obstacle to adopting” the rules, which are necessary for the trials to proceed, although the national judges regard the issue as outside the scope of the internal rules and therefore no obstacle to their adoption.

The review committee called on the BAKC to re-consider its decision as soon as possible so that a planned plenary session of judges can take place on 30 April to adopt the internal rules.

The statement called on the ECCC Defence Support Section to work closely with the BAKC in this process.

“All members of the Committee remain dedicated to completing this complex effort of successfully harmonizing international and national law so that the ECCC can discharge its historic responsibility to find justice for the Cambodian people,” the statement added.

Judges and prosecutors for the ECCC trials were sworn in last July. Under an agreement signed by the UN and Cambodia, the trial court and a Supreme Court within the Cambodian legal system will investigate those most responsible for crimes and serious violations of Cambodian and international law between 17 April 1975 and 6 January 1979.

The UN will pay $43 million of the $56.3 million budget for the trials, with the Cambodian Government providing the remaining $13.3 million.